Caila went to Meremac-STL for journalism and has been writing for most of her life.
The Last Descent
A True Old Wive's Tale
My experience watching this movie was very similar to watching 127 Hours right before this. I had heard about this story of John Edward Jones and the Nutty Putty Cave from YouTube and I really dove into it. I did my research on the situation and the cave, I watched a load of videos on what happened to John down there. The story itself is extremely sad, frustrating, and claustrophobia inducing. When I learned there was a movie that reflected on the story, I had to see it! The Last Descent is the dramatized version of the last hours of someone's life who was looking to have fun, doing something they hadn't done in years, and how they ended up a cautionary tale about the dangers of caving and spelunking.
The Death Position
In the very beginning of the film, we see John being reunited with his brother, Josh, for Thanksgiving. The movie goes right into the plot, similar to the previous canyoning movie, and establishes that John and Josh will be going spelunking in Nutty Putty Cave, which has just reopened recently. John is excited to do something that they used to do as kids. The movie lays on the brotherly love pretty thick for dramatization purposes. It's simply to establish that they are close brothers and to make what eventually happens down in the cave make sense, but it did not really work for me honestly. It's laid on so heavy that you don't really feel the connection, you're just being told it. Show, don't tell.
Just as with 127 Hours, the initial incident happens within the first 15 minutes or so of the movie, however unlike the other film, the dread of the situation that John is in does not see as dire initially. Possibly because there is no physical pain and no urgency about it yet. John and Josh decide to split up in the cave system, which is extremely small, filled with tunnels leading different ways, and quite nerve wrecking at times. John somehow finds his way into a very small tunnel looking for a way to a big room he knows exists in the cave's tunnels. He goes into the tunnel, flat on his stomach and arms outstretched, when he realizes that he can't turn around. He tries to push forward further to find space to turn around in. In the most impossible circumstances, he finds a narrow hole-like tunnel after sucking in his stomach to get past a lip of rock that he couldn't fit past. The hole is no bigger than the opening of a washing machine and crawls in head first because he believes it'll lead to a wider section for him to exit and come back up through. Once he sucked in and went past that lip of rock, John was doomed. He crawls in and is immediately stuck! Not only is he stuck, but he is stuck facing downward in the tunnel with no breathing room, no arm room, and no room to turn around.
Cave Map... Charted and Uncharted
Talk It Out...
"If you can get in there, you can get out of there, right?" My first thoughts and John's first thoughts as he tries to remain calm. When his brother, Josh, finds him, he realizes he's hopelessly stuck and that he can't do anything but call others to help. Even this did not feel like much to their characters because I never really felt the connection there anyway. By the time help gets there, 3 hours later, the blood is already starting to go to John's head as he has been facing downward this entire time! Cave rescue comes in and talks to John, feed him through an IV and try to calm him down, but I think anybody could see it in the rescue workers' faces that John was in a really bad spot. The fact that John is a medical student and knows what is happening to his body is even more sad.
You can unfortunately tell that this was a cheaper film, because of the mistakes they've left in the film and it feels like a cheap script with a new director as well. However, one thing that they did do that I would have hated in any other film, but it worked in this one to me, is that they deposited exposition through conversation. It works for this film, because they are trying to keep John alive by talking to him. What else can he do but talk to somebody? So it works for me. A worker named Aaron is sent down into the cave to converse with John and to help him and the guy really comes across as a good friend or brother than his actual brother did in the film. Their relationship is more relatable and believable because they are real life friendly, joking with one another, and it doesn't feel dramatized. Just felt like two guys talking... while one was in a life threatening situation.
The movie has a lot of unnecessary CGI dream sequences that make no sense, even by the end of the film, it still doesn't work and it takes up so much time in the film. Before I even watched the film and I saw it was an hour and 40 minutes, I thought it could be shorter. When watching it, I still felt that way. With the boring setting of being stuck in a hole, essentially, there's not much holding the attention. The progress of getting him out of the hole slows down as well and eventually you just wish things would pick up. When John begins to lose hope, that is where despair sets in for the audience.
Nutty Putty Cave Closure
All Endings Aren't Good
As stated before, the movie feels long, but when the backstory begins, it feels like you have another year to go before this movie will ever come to a head. We are introduced to John's wife, Emily and their love story. I honestly wish they would have focused more on that story because it was far more interesting than him being stuck was. Their love story was a bit frustrating but cute! The tale of them getting together is cut off by news clips from the real life situation when it was happening and I thought that was cool piece to add to this movie. The news stories intertwined really made the movie feel like it had more stakes to it. The clips also made something obvious to me: that they should have focused on the love story and the efforts it took to get John out of the cave. It would have made the film so much more interesting.
I do not think for a single second of the entire time John was trapped, that he thought he was getting back out of there. I'm not even sure if anybody did, besides Aaron, and I think that point is conveyed well through the acting. Aaron's passion to save John was very sweet and they really had a short lived bond while down in that cave. It takes the rescue workers hours to REALLY attempt to get John out of the cave and the cave makes it worse because the Nutty Putty cave system is made up of mud and clay so it's hard to set up any sort of pulley to tug on John with.
When the final attempt to pull him out fails and John is dropped back into the hole, more stuck than ever, you do feel helpless. This is where actual emotions come in because Aaron really wanted to help, but he couldn't and John was still stuck after almost a full day being upside down. In a small sense of calming efforts, John was able to talk to his wife via radio and he was told that he was having a baby boy and all of his dream sequences make sense now... they still don't. I thought that was probably a nice thought for him to have to soothe his mind that was filling with his own blood. It's very sad though, because he knows he can't be there for the baby now. The rescue workers leave the cave and John died down there from cardiac issues and suffocation, and that cave remains closed off, and remains his tomb to this day.
My Final Thoughts...
I think my biggest downfall with this movie while watching it, was that I watched 127 Hours right before. Even though they are both based completely on true stories, have similar plots, one made a better movie, without a doubt. I think seeing the facts being stated on screen before the end credits was more effective than the dramatizations of the film. Had the film focused more on the facts and the efforts to get John out, rather than the side plot of dream sequences and him seeing his unborn son throughout his lifetime and finally meeting him at the end, it could have been a much better movie. The real facts that John could not be saved and that had they taken the measures to get him out by force, i.e. breaking his legs and dragging him out, he probably still would have died from the shock of the pain, along with his body being upside down the whole time. By the end of it all, he was in a lot of physical pain from no blood circulation. The dramatizations brought this movie down to such a low level, when they could have had an amazing cautionary story on their hands instead. I think the story of John Edward Jones deserved a bit better than this movie, because it is such a compelling story on paper. I've seen YouTube videos that told the story better than this movie did. Rest in Peace, John Edward Jones!
The Last Descent Movie Poll
This movie was a... Diamond in the Rough!
Actors, Actresses, and Production Teams!
|Actors/Actresses||Production Teams||Production Comapnies|
Isaac Halasima (Director, Screenplay Writer, Editor, Cinematographer)
Deep Blue Films (Production Company)
Bryan Fugal (Producer)
Cocollala Pictures (Production Company)
Mike Staheli (Producer)
Dark Rider Productions (Production Company)
Aaron Stephensen (Producer)
Excel Entertainment Group (Distribution Company)
Matt Cropper (Music by)
Kalai (Music by)