Judge Joel Pearce likes to keep his back to the darkness.
Deep in the dark, your eyes will glow in light.
Before watching this Canadian documentary on cave diving, I knew almost nothing about the world's most dangerous sport. I knew that it was different than regular scuba diving, and that it's noted for being particularly dangerous. Unfortunately, this documentary has done little for me. Facing Darkness is too awkwardly assembled to be an effective introduction to cave diving, and not long enough to be an in-depth exploration, either.
Like most documentaries, Facing Darkness is a blend of interview footage and shots from on location. While the highlight of the documentary is certainly the beautiful underwater cinematography, the focus is normally on the divers themselves, as they discuss the history, terminology, experience, and dangers of the sport. They are a pleasant group of people, but I often found myself wishing they would stop talking and let me take in the beauty that they get to experience under the water.
Alas, we rarely get any more than a peek at this unusual underwater world. Facing Darkness focuses on the Florida springs, one of the most popular destinations for cave divers. They also discuss the cave diving in Mexico, which features the deepest caverns known to man. We only get to see footage from Florida, though, as the divers explore spring-fed caverns similar to the ones that provide the area with fresh drinking water.
The interviews are often interesting, and director Nathalie Lasselin has found some very capable divers and trainers to discuss the sport. They focus on danger and safety, since that is the most notable aspect of cave diving. In the sport's short history, over 300 divers have carelessly gone to their deaths, though the majority of those were in the 1970s and 1980s, before the diving community realized they would have to follow a different set of rules in the caverns. The rest of the interviews focus on rules, rules which must be followed to keep cave diving relatively safe.
In a documentary that only runs 45 minutes long, this repetition of danger and safety is the wrong focus. The chance of me ever actually cave diving is very slim. I don't need to have an in-depth picture of what mistakes could kill me. What I do want from Facing Darkness is a vicarious experience: I want to see what it looks like to go cave diving, since I will never experience it for myself. As I said earlier, we only ever get a fleeting glimpse of the real experience, so the documentary fails on that fundamental level. To make matters worse, Facing Darkness jumps from topic to topic with no real structure, preventing it from becoming an engaging story about cave diving.
Facing Darkness may be more interesting for people who are interested in taking the plunge, but have no idea what the sport entails. It does work as a cautionary warning of the danger, but also as an assurance that cautious, determined divers can proceed with cave diving in relative safety. For the rest of us, it is a reminder that we would be better off getting into a less rule-driven activity, like raising a Mogwai or starting up a Fight Club franchise.
The DVD is also a bit of a disappointment. With recent filming technology and an only 45 minute long film to cram onto the disc, I was hoping for a high quality video transfer to show off the underwater cinematography. On a small display, it does look good, but a number of transfer flaws are revealed on a high quality display. Juttering, jagged diagonal lines, and blurring prevent the underwater sequences from looking great. The sound, presented in 5.1, does capture the voices of the subjects well, and push the music deep into the background where it belongs.
There are a few extras on the disc. There is some additional manatee footage, but no additional or uncut footage of cave diving, which I had hoped to find. There are some profiles, both of the film crew and the divers that have been interviewed. Beyond that, all we really get are trailers, some sample music tracks, and some text information about cave diving.
Ultimately, I can't recommend Facing Darkness to many people. If you know nothing about cave diving but think it might be for you, this would be a relatively safe introduction. Still, it wouldn't be as good an introduction as talking to some experts and guides, getting into the water yourself. If, like me, you have no interest in cave diving, this documentary doesn't teach enough or weave a compelling story to make it worth watching. It's a shame, too, because Lasselin's cinematography is clearly world-class. It's just not used to great effect here.
Facing Darkness is ordered to get out of the water before it gets itself killed.
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