By Victoria Dammer
Documentaries, by definition, educate and bring to life a vision to stir the audience’s soul. “Hell or High Seas,” directed by Glenn Holsten and produced by Chayne Gregg, is a powerful movie following U.S. Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmer veteran Taylor Grieger and writer Stephen O’Shea’s soul-searching trek from Florida to the southern tip of South America. The film brings awareness to Grieger’s battle with PTSD as he transitioned from military to civilian life. The life-altering adventure, filled with hope and disappointments, will pierce your heart, making you laugh and cry.
Over 22 veterans commit suicide in our country every day, and Grieger almost became a statistic. But, getting a second chance after the loaded gun he pointed to his head failed to deliver the fatal shot, Grieger embarked on a ten thousand mile arduous journey to Cape Horn with O’Shea. Along the way, Grieger wrestled with his internal demons. The movie is Grieger’s attempt to reach out to other veterans like himself, providing a hopeful message they are not alone in their struggles.
Starting in Florida, the first leg of the trip looked like smooth sailing. Kellen Warner, an aviation rescue swimmer also, joined Grieger and O’Shea to navigate the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily, his sailing experience helped them weather a severe hurricane and land on the Yucatan peninsula almost unscathed.
Later on in the voyage, veteran Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmer John Rose came on board to aid navigation.
The expedition to reach Cape Horn at the bottom of the southern hemisphere, where untamed power and beauty coexist as the Atlantic meets the Pacific Ocean, tested the sailor’s fortitude daily. But eventually, Grieger proved through his sheer determination that endurance is vital for other veterans to begin the healing process as he did.
The waters off the coast of southern South America are treacherous. Simple mistakes can take you hundreds of miles off the coast, something the crew experienced firsthand. Bitter winds blew from Antarctica. Hazardous waves crashed across the bow and almost broke the mast. Moviegoers sat on the edge of their seats as they watched Mother Nature throw her limitless fury on the sailboat, “Ole Lady,” trying to dash the dreams of Grieger and the others.
Director of photography John Pope chronicles the voyage with a breathtaking reel of the strength of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, the magnificent construction of the Panama Canal, and the quaintness of small marinas along the way where the sailors re-provisioned their boat. Unfortunately, one marina, far from their final destination, is the site of significant disappointment when Grieger and O’Shea determined their sailboat was damaged and could not go further.
But just as fate did not kill Grieger with a bullet, a twist of fate brought about an unexpected tide of good fortune.
Rent, buy or go see “Hell or High Seas.” It is a story with an ending you will not forget.
Hell of High Seas: Documentary starring Taylor Grieger, Stephen O’Shea, John Rose and Kellen Warner. At the Cinema Village Theater, 22 East 12th Street, NYC, through December 2. Cast and crew will be available for Q & A after the 7 p.m. screening on December 2.
Directed by Glenn Holsten; produced by Chayne Gregg; Executive Producers are Robert Irvine, Tom Farrell and Matt Howley; Director of Photography is John Pope; Music by Michael Aharon; Additional editing by Dave Bauer and Meg Sarachan.
Released on October 8, 2021.
Running time is 90 minutes.