out of Five
Running time: 93
Impressively directed and skilfully edited, this is a horrifying and emotionally devastating documentary that exerts a powerful grip and stands as a moving tribute to the victims and survivors of the worst oil rig disaster in history.
What's it all about?
Directed by Anthony Wonke and based on the non-fiction book by Stephen McGinty, Fire in the Night recounts the tragedy of the July 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, when a series of explosions on the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha lead to the deaths of 167 men. Using archive footage, reconstruction sequences, animated inserts, photographs, audio recordings (of the distress signals and responses) and present-day interviews with both survivors and rescuers, the film tells the story from beginning to end, starting with the construction of the rig itself and detailing the normal day-to-day routine before the tragedy begins to unfold like a horrifying true-life disaster movie.
The testimonies are deeply moving and watching several of the men tear up as they recall the details is utterly devastating - one admits he hasn't spoken about some of the details in over 20 years and it's clear that none of them have ever really recovered from the experience. In addition, each man has an astonishing and literally death-defying story to tell as they recount their escape from the burning rig in horrific detail (several take leaps of faith, preferring to risk dying in the jump or drowning to being burned alive).
As well as some fascinating footage of life aboard the rig before the disaster (featuring most of the survivors 25 years ago), Wonke has assembled some truly horrific footage of the disaster itself; there's a sequence capturing one of the explosions as it rips through the rig that is truly sickening to watch and will leave you open-mouthed with shock. The footage is occasionally augmented with an animated blueprint of the rig that indicates the position of some of the survivors as they tell their stories; in addition the film employs some extraordinary sound design work that needs to be experienced in the best screen possible.
The only real problem with the film is that some of the reconstruction sequences are distracting and serve little dramatic purpose; the survivors' stories are riveting enough without the need for illustration. Similarly, at one point Wonke indulges in a fantasy sequence involving a wedding dress that takes a little bit of liberty with what the survivor is actually saying and feels out of place as a result.
Fire in the Night is an impressively directed documentary that's simultaneously gripping, horrifying and immensely moving. As such, it demands to be seen. Highly recommended.
Fire In The Night (12A)