In 2009 John Jones and his brother Josh went down into the Nutty Putty Cave for some exploring as John and his wife Emily came home for a visit. Unknowingly taking a wrong turn and exploring uncharted areas of the Nutty Putty Cave, this movie follows the rescue effort of John, who gets completely wedged stuck in a narrow shaft.
The disasters faced
Getting stuck in a cave, drinking lemon Gatorade, hanging upside down for over an entire day and the empty darkness of the cave system.
John Jones and his brother Josh go spelunking in the Nutty Putty Cave in 2009. The true story sees John getting stuck in a near vertical shaft that was previously unexplored. John had taken a wrong turn unknowingly and ventured off the known path and in sliding down a very tight 90 degree turn and slide, he’d become absolutely stuck. Whilst both John and Josh were experienced cave explorers, the way how the incident occurred geographically meant that Josh couldn’t get any purchase to pull John up.
Josh calls for help and as cave rescuer Susie tries to assess the main issues, fellow rescuer Aaron gears up to take over watch. Aaron is reeling from a recent cave rescue failure that left three other cave rescuers for dead and so he is not prepared to let John die, even if that means his life is compromised in the process. Susie, more pragmatic and upfront understands that in order to get John out, they’ll need to break his legs and perhaps a few other things too.
Whilst drills fail to make an impact, rope and pulleys are being put in place to drag him out. John, still about 70 degrees vertically dangling, is feeling the effects of the blood rushing to his head. This forms the vast majority of the main story. John speaks with Aaron about his life in-between bouts of panic as his mind plays tricks on him. He is desperate to get out to wife Emily waiting outside. Emily was planning to tell him she’s pregnant but is able to tell him on the intercom.
When it comes to the final push to pull John out, the rescue doesn’t go to plan. An arch shattered that the rope pulley system was hooked around and John’s body slides down even further and is essentially lost. The movie slightly alters the time passage around this to bring us to John, having one final vision – a talk with his future son to be.
Why is it worth watching?
I first heard about John Jones and the Nutty Putty Caves thanks to Fascinating Horror on YouTube. I’ve placed the exact video in the bonus section of The Last Descent’s page. What this film does is expand on the man himself. His upbringing, home life, love life with Emily and starting a family. From that perspective, the film places the life of John as a tribute front and centre. The rescue is ever present but rarely takes the lead over flashbacks, storytelling or visions of the future John will never have.
Occasionally The Last Descent pulls on real news footage to give updates on how many hours have passed in the rescue. This helps us understand the passing of time and John’s predicament. What could be better relayed in the movie is the rescue effort itself. Aaron, Susie, the doctor – they are largely reduced to bit parts. Whilst the film respects and thanks the rescue workers, some deeper explanation on what they were doing would have been helpful.
The nature of almost the entire movie being shot in a narrow cave space means the movie suffers from dark vision. You’ll need a bucket of carrots to see half of what is going on. The same camera shots appear over and over, the same lines of ‘how are you’, ‘this sucks’ repeat and there is a little bit repetition grind too. This isn’t helped early on with a lot of ‘talking out loud exposition’ that feels particularly clunky. Coupled with the very dark screens, the movie gets off to quite a poor start. Thankfully, the movie hits its stride in the second half with a much more cohesive and rounded cinematic experience.
The use of real news footage grounds everything in the reality it comes from. The cave sets themselves look claustrophobic and the dust that each move creates really sells the horror of it all. Unlike a lot of cave sets, this never feels or looks beautiful – it looks like a crawl space designed for tombs.
This is primarily a film to celebrate John’s life. He is portrayed as a man with a zest for life and his heart sold to Emily from the get go. I really like that the movie chooses to not shy away from John and Emily having some bumps in the road. The love is always there but balancing love, ambition and self discovery at a young age is always a tricky thing. Aaron and Susie both seem great rescuers as well, using their personality to keep John at ease. We do find out a bit about Aaron’s issues and getting himself back onto the rescue wagon again, which makes him a more rounded character too. There’s no one to dislike here. Even if you want to scream at Josh for pushing to go down the Nutty Putty Cave initially, he still seems like a nice guy.
Three memorable moments
- Emily telling John she’s pregnant.
- Susie explaining that in order to rescue John, they’re going to need to cause a lot of harm.
- The final vision John has is quite poetic.
The obligatory weird moment
This weird moment probably says more about my movie watchlist than anything else. Early on in the movie as Josh and John gear up for the caves, the movie goes out of its way to show them having a childlike brotherly competition. It also does an odd lens flare camera effect over and over as they approach the mines, tickling, shoving and slapping each other. I’ve watched way too many LBGT romance movies and this is exactly how gay bromance turns romance. It is meant to evoke wholesome family time but in my film catalogue, they’re two tickles away from making out.
The drinking game
Lemon Gatorade drinking is an entire subplot throughout this film. Was it used or is it a sponsor? I wonder. If you drink every time John drinks it or talks about it, you might want some of that zesty juice too.
The Last Descent gets off on a slightly wobbly start but improves as it progresses. Whilst I haven’t lost sight of how tragic the real life event was, and that poignancy is made very clear in the movies final scenes, it meanders wildly getting there. It also makes changes and additions for cinematic licence reasons that have no pay off either. Its heart is in the right place but The Last Descent is a bit of a stumble in the dark.
Rating: 2.5 / 5 OK
If you enjoyed The Last Descent, then you may like…
- Buried – A fictional tale of a man buried alive in a warzone.
- The 33 – The true story of 33 miners trapped underground.
- World Trade Centre – The true story of several policemen buried in the 9/11 rubble.
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