Warning. Major plot points for the movie The Last Descent revealed below.
I’ll never forget where I was when I first heard the story about the man who died in Nutty Putty Cave.
My friends and I sat around the dinner table, finishing off the last bit of our meal. Our conversation turned to the many hiking and recreational activities in Utah and that is when someone mentioned it. As I heard about John Jones and his untimely death, I was horrified. It was terrible and tragic.
When I heard a movie was being made about the experience, I balked just a little bit. How could anyone possibly make a movie about this?
With a gentle approach and commitment to hope, turns out.
For those unaware of the story, John Edward Jones went spelunking in Nutty Putty Cave, located in Utah and known for it’s slippery, gummy walls, the day before Thanksgiving in 2009. He became trapped upside down in a crevice approximately 18 inches wide and 10 inches high. After 26 hours of intense rescue work, Jones passed away. Because of the danger, it was decided to leave his body inside the cave and permanently seal it off as a final resting place.
He left behind his wife Emily and their 13-month-old daughter Lizzie.
The film is true to its name; it follows Jones’ last descent into the cave and the immense rescue effort to try and save his life, while also using flashbacks to highlight key moments in Jones’ life. In the end, you’re left with a movie that breaks your heart while simultaneously putting it back together with strengthened resolved to live life right.
The film’s strength comes first in its ability to appropriately portray a tragic event without being grotesque and second, in its attentive character creation. Even secondary characters with limited screen time are well-written and fleshed out. This is especially evident in the portrayal of the rescue workers. Actor Landon Henneman’s portrayal of Aaron, a rescue worker who spends the most time with Jones in the film as he struggles to stay alive, is sensitive and gutting.
Because of the visceral nature of the film, including Chadwick Hopson’s depiction of Jones’ struggle to breathe and remain calm, some of the flashbacks seemed out of place and almost too glossy. This is mostly due to the choking sound of Hopson’s voice one moment to his clear narration of the past in the next. The flashbacks seem to serve mainly as illusions created by Jones’ loss of mental stability as he slowly deteriorates, but they could have been more jumbled, more chaotic for a better flow with the rest of the film.
Regardless, the story of Jones’ life is essential and moving and the flashbacks are completely necessary for that.
The Last Descent is currently playing in select theaters. You can experience, and support, the film by going to see it in a theater near you. Click here to find out where the film is available and showtimes.