TSJ Reviews the Netflix Documentary Thriller LAST BREATH

“A deep sea diver is stranded on the seabed with 5 minutes of oxygen and no hope of rescue. With access to amazing archive this is the story of one man’s impossible fight for survival.” — from IMDB

Saturation divers work at great depths to maintain equipment for commercial ventures such as deep sea oil drilling. The oil company (not specified in the documentary) employs the divers for maintenance purposes, and maintains a workforce of three along with a medic prepared to dive into the tremendous pressures at the bottom of the North Sea at all times. These “Sat Divers” live in self-contained habitats on a surface vessel for weeks at a time. It’s like being in outer space, but on a boat. Conditions are cramped, engineers monitor the atmospheric conditions religiously, and there is little interaction with anybody else except through video or audio communications. In this case, the divers live at a constant ten atmospheric pressures on the surface vessel directly above the drilling manifold, a structure located on the seabed nearly a hundred meters below. A diving bell lowered from the boat contains the divers, who, because they are living at a pressure that equals the surrounding environment, can enter and exit the bell easily through a pool of water in the vessel’s deck. (No airlock or depressurization needed.)

Recreating a scene: Working on the manifold

During a routine operation to replace a piece of pipe on the manifold at the bottom of the North Sea, a violent storm on the surface, combined with an impossible simultaneous outage of three computers meant to maintain the navigational control of the vessel, results in a life threatening catastrophe on the seafloor. The boat loses control, drifts from the drill site due to winds and high waves, and a diver’s umbilical lifeline snaps as a result.

It’s a monumental catastrophe, and the documentary LAST BREATH focuses on how the crew and divers respond to the emergency. The diver has five minutes of emergency air, but no more. The result is certain death as he lies on the cold bottom, slowly suffocating.

The documentary uses actual mission footage along with crew interviews, dramatic re-enactments, family interviews, and archival footage to describe in dramatic and intense detail the events during the failed mission. It’s an incredible and true tale, and the film had me riveted to the screen.

Exiting the moonpool

Perhaps the similarity to my own work, THE WAR BENEATH, attracted me to the documentary. In the book, characters live at a constant four atmospheres of pressure on the shallow continental shelves. There, they can easily exit and enter the ocean through pools in the decks of their habitat modules (“moonpools”), but this “saturation” environment means they can’t bolt to the surface in an emergency. This ramps up tension in LAST BREATH because the diver, once an emergency cuts his air supply, is helpless. Should sat divers swim to the surface, the bends (bubbles in tissues, joints, and the blood stream) would cripple, then kill, its victims, and quite painfully at that.

LAST BREATH is a thrilling film on Netflix, told expertly by filmmakers Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson. Dogwoof distributed the movie. Kudos to all involved, for it’s an emotional and heart-pounding true life adventure. Recommended.

TSJ’s Review: 8/10

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Winner of the 2018 GLOBAL THRILLER Award for Action/Adventure & Semi-Finalist for the 2018 CLUE Award for Suspense/Thriller


“One very riveting, intelligent read!” — Readers’ Favorite
“If you like novels like The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising,
you will certainly enjoy The War Beneath.” — A Thrill A Week
“If you’re here for thrills, the book will deliver.” — The Cambridge Geek
“This is a tense, gripping science fiction/thriller of which Tom Clancy might well be proud . . .When I say it is gripping, that is the simple truth.” — Ardath Mayhar
“… a thrill ride from beginning to end …” — SF Crowsnest
“… if you like Clancy and le Carré with a hint of Forsyth thrown in,
you’ll love The War Beneath.” — Colonel Jonathan P. Brazee (RET),
2017 Nebula Award & 2018 Dragon Award Finalist
“Fast-paced, good old-fashioned Cold War espionage … a great escape!” — The Minerva Reader

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