The story was known to anyone living in Utah at the time, and the title is a bit of a spoiler, but writer/director Isaac Halasima’s fact-based drama still finds powerful moments to make up for the absence of what's-gonna-happen tension. In November 2009, medical student John Jones (Chadwick Hopson) goes exploring with his brother (Jacob Omer) in Utah’s Nutty Putty Cave, only to set off a massive rescue operation when John becomes trapped in a tunnel. Halasima tries to build a tribute to John’s memory through flashbacks to his childhood and his courtship with his wife (Alexis Johnson), but events above ground often feel thin and unsatisfying. There’s terrific material, though, in the interaction between John and Aaron (Landon Henneman), a rescue worker who stays with John through the ordeal. The performances in these scenes hit home in their mix of calming small-talk and genuine openness, conveying the kind of relationship that evolves in a crisis. While it’s a worthy goal to make a tragic story focus on the victim’s life, The Last Descent hits emotional high notes by capturing people making peace with the possibility of death.
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