Starring: Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron, Ollie Ryall
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Running Time: 106 mins
Touching The Void is a British documentary about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ groundbreaking ascent of the west face of the Siula Grande mountain in Peru, and their near-fatal ordeal in returning to the ground.
There are few things I find more exhilarating than survival movies. Films that seem to have a capacity to go beyond the power of most thrillers, and are able to deliver ethereal and devastating emotional drama alongside nail-biting tension. And Touching The Void may just be one of the very best survival movies ever made.
But first things first, it’s important to understand what this movie is: a ‘docudrama’. So, the film is narrated by the two men, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who embarked on this expedition, while their ordeal is acted out, some parts at the place where it all unfolded, by Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron.
The use of the docudrama style is a stroke of absolute genius from director Kevin Macdonald, who goes all out to portray this staggering story in as vivid a manner as possible, a strategy that goes a long, long way to making Touching The Void such a powerful watch.
Because of its docudrama style, the film doubles as a blockbuster action thriller and a deeply intimate story about two men facing the brutality of mother nature, with almost nobody around to save them should things go wrong. The film strikes a perfect balance between providing thrills and deeply emotive drama, and that’s what makes it such a mesmerising watch at times.
The acting from Mackey and Aaron is spectacular, both of whom give brilliantly physical performances in a film that’s set against a visually stunning backdrop of an isolated part of the Andes mountains in an even more isolated corner of Peru.
However, beyond what you can see in this film, it’s the narration of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who made the climb for real back in 1985, which really brings the gravitas of the story home.
You see and hear the men, along with their friend Richard Hawking, who stayed at base camp while they climbed, and they give both detailed and deeply passionate accounts of the days that unfolded on the face of Siula Grande, filled with emotion that makes you understand just how much of impact the experience had.
Now, you might be thinking that the men’s appearance in the film almost ruins the potential ‘thrill’ of finding out whether they survive scaling and descending the side of a mountain that has never been successfully scaled before. However, while that may ring true in the film’s surprisingly fast-moving opening act, their presence brings so, so much more to the story.
On the surface, seeing that they both made it out alive makes the movie even more exhilarating to watch, as you’re constantly on edge trying to fathom how on earth they survived the ordeal on the mountain, when numerous moments in the story seem like certain death.
But on a more serious level, their narration allows you to get into the mind of the two men at every point in the story. This isn’t a movie about them, but more their movie, with no stone left unturned as to their innermost thoughts at the darkest and most dangerous moments of their excursion, offering a staggering insight on what it really is like to be on the edge of death for so, so long.
Touching The Void is an exceptionally emotional film that counts on its hugely impressive production and docudrama style to deliver both a thrilling and spectacular cinematic experience. Complete with insightful and above all impassioned narration from the two men who were at the centre of this ordeal, it’s an incredible piece of cinema that will have you on the edge of your seat and holding back tears from start to finish. So, that’s why I’m giving Touching The Void an 8.6 overall.