Directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Brendan Mackey and Nicolas Aaron.
When people scan this weekend's cinema listings, trying to decide what film to shell out for, there'll be a lot of presumptions made about 'Touching the Void'. Some might go in the hope that it's another 'Cliffhanger' or 'Vertical Limit'. Others might think it's "just a documentary" and go and see 'Paycheck' instead. What they won't get with 'Paycheck' is a terrifying and gripping story, shot as real which magnifies the impact even more.
It tells the story of two wide-eyed and ambitious climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, and their extraordinary experience in Peru in 1985. Determined to reach the summit of the then-unconquered west face of Siula Grande in the Andes, they set off with high hopes, scant supplies and a rope in a bid to make it to the top. It was a minimalist, even daredevil, approach to climbing with no network of base camps, but they succeeded. They were living their dream - until it turned into a nightmare. On the way back down, Simpson falls, breaking his leg. Yates attempts to lower him to safety but accidentally suspends him over a huge cliff. Still attached to Yates by the rope that joins them, Simpson's weight is slowly pulling his friend off the mountain. Yates is faced with a horrific decision: be a teammate to the end or cut the rope to save himself?
Watching the (very real) scenes unfold is quite harrowing. Yates' cruel decision is difficult to watch and he finally severs the cord between them. He continues to make his way down, believing his friend to be dead – but by some freak of fate Simpson survives the fall. Over three days he drags himself back to base camp, in agony, hungry and dehydrated. Although it doesn't sound like a lucky state of affairs, Simpson arrives back at base-camp literally hours before his friend would have left forever, presuming him dead.
The film was actually shot on the mountain where this ordeal took place and it's an inhospitable place. Not least if you've fallen 100ft with a broken leg or you're consumed with guilt for your seemingly dead partner. The narrative is divided into the climb activity before the disaster and then both men's struggle for survival after Simpson's fall. The film cuts between Simpson's attempts to get back to base despite his injuries and Yates' guilt-stricken descent. Simpson and Yates are well played by Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron. Nearly a vehicle for Tom Cruise, who opted out at the last minute, the two less well-known actors add an authenticity that Hollywood would've taken away. The real protagonists collaborated on the film but ended up not speaking to each other. When you watch this reconstruction of their experience, you can understand that making the actual film must have brought back a lot of difficult memories.
It's the element of in-your-face realism and the fact that this actually happened that makes it such a powerful spectacle. Gripping, moving and one to see on a big screen.