Robert McClellan, Jill Heinerth
"Ben's Vortex" too "Television" to be Taken Seriously as a Doc
On a hot August evening, scuba diver Ben McDaniel decided to tackle the clear blue water of Florida's dangerous Vortex Spring.
He was never seen again.
Was it an accident? A hoax? Something more sinister?
His family believes that his body is trapped in an underwater cave, but top search and rescue divers from around the world have found no signs of Ben or his body. It's into this story that acclaimed underwater photographer and filmmaker Jill Heinerth herself dives, a story both puzzling and conflicting for all involved.
Over the course of 88 minutes, Heinerth captures truly remarkable underwater footage, easily the film's greatest selling point, along with interviews of Ben's family, local police and, most entertainingly, interviews with the cave diving community.
While the underwater photography in Ben's Vortex is amazing, the film seriously flounders when Heinerth takes her camera above water and focuses the camera and interviews upon characters who could easily be right at home on a TLC reality series.
In case you're wondering, that's not really a compliment.
Though, ya' gotta' love that Honey Boo-Boo.
There's enough material in Ben's Vortex to make for an intriguing and involving documentary, though the film constantly feels like it has tongue firmly planted in cheek and that result mutes the film's impact and any potential surprises along the way. Heinerth also never really escapes the idea that everything about Ben's Vortex feels so staged that any potential drama or entertainment value in the film is hindered by a lack of spontaneity and genuine suspense.
Ben's Vortex works best, and is easily worthy of at least a modest recommendation, on the strength of Heinerth's visually arresting underwater photography. When she's underwater, it's clear that Heinerth is in her element and she creates both a mood and image that gives you the fullness of this unfolding story. It's easy to understand both the draw of wanting to explore this beautiful world that exists below us, but Heinerth doesn't shy away from planting the danger behind the beauty.
Ben's Vortex is now available on DVD. For more information, visit the film's website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic