What would you do if you were stranded in a remote place alone, with no food or clean water, or Internet connection? Would you survive? Do you believe you have the skills to do that? If you’ve spent your days watching Bear Grylls scale mountains and chart his way through dense forests in various survival shows he has hosted over the years, you might have some inkling of how to survive in such a situation. But for a lawyer who has given her life to the job, the difficulty level increases tenfold, and that’s what Netflix’s ‘Keep Breathing’ is about.
It starts with Liv (Melissa Barrera) waiting for her flight to Inuvik, Canada, which she discovers has been canceled for the day. The airline offers to book another for her the next day, but she needs to be at her destination the same day. She’s chasing someone and can’t afford to lose their trail. She is so desperate that she asks two strange men if she can join them in the private plane that they say will pass through Inuvik. She is warned that she doesn’t even know who they really are, but Liv doesn’t seem concerned with that. The warning later turns out to be a critical point when the plane crashes in the middle of nowhere and Liv is left all alone to fend for herself.
Created by Martin Gero and Brendan Gall, the miniseries leaves its protagonist to her own devices, not only to survive the new environment but also to confront the demons from her past. With only six episodes, the show keeps everything concise, with every scene furthering the plot at a steady pace. There are regular flashbacks, sharply cut with the present narrative of the character, giving the audience a sense of understanding of her and an incentive to root for her. Soon, it becomes clear that the struggle has more to do with the emotional state rather than the problems that nature poses.
On the survival in the wilderness front, the show doesn’t get too gritty. Its bear (unlike the one in ‘The Revenant’) doesn’t like to stick around and engage in a wrestling match; neither is there a need to skin or even eat an animal. Liv is a normal person and it’s only logical that she can’t suddenly be an expert at fishing when she’s never done that before. Along similar lines, the storytellers keep the actions of their protagonist limited to the ones that make the audience languidly question whether or not they’d do things the same way. You might also find yourself throwing a piece of advice or two along Liv’s way, though it’s going to go unheeded, which you already know very well.
It all feels rather mellow (of course perspective differs when you are in the comfort of your home and not in the middle of a jungle) compared to the other survival dramas that the audience is used to by now. There is barely any shock or even excitement regarding Liv’s ability to survive a situation. The thrill only lessens with every episode, with new troubles thrown into the way for the sake of it. Still, it’s engaging enough to keep questioning Liv’s decisions and comparing them with your own. Whether or not you agree, eventually, things are understandable from Liv’s point of view, and that should be enough to keep you from sparking a passionate debate about it.
To combat the wobbliness of the survival arc, the show offers Liv’s backstory, which seems to have much more gravity. Even if it’s the character profile that has already been seen multiple times, it does spark some interest. The flow between the past and the present is seamless which keeps the audience distracted enough to not get weary at any moment. To her credit, Barrera gives a performance good enough to make a viewer want to stick around and see how it turns out for her character after all. Florencia Lozano as Liv’s flimsy, artistic mother stays out of focus, much like Liv’s memories of her. Jeff Wilbusch appears in a tamer role, compared to his previous Netflix foray with ‘Unorthodox’. Overall, the cast does their roles justice and gives the audience some space to be invested in them.
Considering everything, ‘Keep Breathing’ is a good, short watch that you can occupy yourself with if looking for a simple distraction. It keeps its tone and messages gentle, never forcing the audience to reflect on human nature and how far it can go to survive, but it succeeds in holding on to your curiosity. The show lingers in the middle ground, neither inspiring nor repulsing the viewer, yet inviting them in for a quick escape with its scenic setting.