The Trapped 13: How We Survived the Thai Cave Brings Fresh Perspective to a Familiar Story

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The Trapped 13: How We Survived the Thai Cave Brings Fresh Perspective to a Familiar Story

In the four years since 13 young boys on the Wild Boars soccer team became trapped in a flooded cave for 18 world-captivating days, there have been no shortage of film and TV adaptations of the incident. To merely scratch the surface, there was the 2019 film The Cave, there was The Rescue (Free Solo directing team Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s NatGeo-produced doc) and, most recently, there was Thirteen Lives, director Ron Howard’s big-budget, star-studded dramatization of the perilous rescue mission. But all of these on-screen endeavors are missing one crucial component: The perspective of the survivors. This was no creative choice. Not long after the incident took place, Netflix locked down exclusive rights to the boys’ stories, making it so every other take on the event—even Howard’s $55 million dollar endeavor—had to almost entirely circumvent any depiction of the victims.

And so, after four long years, we finally get to see what Netflix has been keeping under its hat for all this time. The Trapped 13: How We Survived the Thai Cave is part of the streaming giant’s Thai Cave Rescue collection, which also features a scripted limited series called Thai Cave Rescue. Helmed by Thai director Pailin Wedel, the documentary features exclusive testimony from six of the boys—Tee, Titan, Tle, Adul, Mark, Mix—and their coach, Eak.

If nothing else, Trapped 13 emphasizes that, without a doubt, the most important perspectives in the story of the Tham Luang cave rescue are those of the boys. Their recollections of the event are consistently moving, funny and surprising. Instead of recalling any sense of impending doom as they first entered the cave’s mouth, for example, the boys giggle as they remember teasing one of their teammates for having a girlfriend. Later, when faced with near-lethal levels of starvation, they describe daydreaming that they were able to convince a delivery person to swim through the winding networks of the cavern to deliver them fresh baskets of crispy chicken.

As heartbreaking as you expect the gory details of the boys’ time in the cave to be, they are a thousand times more so. It’s difficult not to catch a lump in your throat when Eak expresses a sense of responsibility for bringing them into the cave in the first place. “I wanted to show them something beautiful,” he says. Similarly, as the boys recount the moment that they came to terms with the reality that no help was coming, it’s hard not to feel like you’re crouched right beside them within those jagged walls.

But the compelling nature of Trapped 13 isn’t just a product of its raw, chilling testimonies. Wedel nearly perfects the tough balancing act that comes with constructing a documentary: Crafting something that is at once beautifully stylized, but doesn’t distract from the truth at hand. Indeed, while employing the boys’ interviews as the glue that holds the film together, Wedel uses a mix of interview footage, body-cam captures and reenactments. And where reenactments can oftentimes come across as somewhat campy and forced, Trapped 13’s are so understated and authentic that, at times, it’s difficult to discern them from the actual body-cam footage.

Trapped 13 is also a masterclass in pacing. Wedel refuses to linger on one moment for too long—a feat that was difficult for other retellings of the story, such as 13 Lives, due to the limited access those filmmakers had. But Wedel has a litany of resources up her sleeve, and she’ll be damned if she lets any of them go to waste. Throughout the film, she skillfully rotates between the perspectives of the boys, their parents and the rescue divers. Through this, she crafts a well-rounded, fast-moving picture of the event.

The only area in which Trapped 13 falters is in its inherent redundancy when compared to earlier films. We know by now the dilemmas that the rescue divers were faced with in extricating the kids, as well as how the soccer team became trapped in the first place. Still, the boys’ perspectives add a fresh edge to these stories, and besides, even after seven adaptations (and counting), it’s difficult to imagine getting tired of a story like this.

Director: Pailin Wedel
Release Date: October 6, 2022 (Netflix)

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.

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