Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive- Netflix (Review): This Documentary Celebrates Human Endurance, Willpower, and Belief

Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive- Netflix (Review): This Documentary Celebrates Human Endurance, Willpower, and Belief

Hold your Breath: The Ice Dive (Review): The cold is a brutal element, one that can challenge you to the ultimate limits. Hold Your Breath is an apt name for the documentary as it conveys what everyone involved is doing during The Ice Dive. Johanna Nordblad, the people at the lake where she performed the incredible feat, and the ones behind the fourth wall. While she held her breath beneath the ice, the rest held their breath as she swam through the freezing water. 

They held their breath and prayed that all would go well. And only once she reached 103m and surfaced, may they have noticed a deep breath escape as the cheers penetrated the cold surroundings at Lake Öllöri, Hossa. 

After watching the trailer and doing some background reading about Johanna Nordblad, I remembered this line in Titanic. Though James Cameron’s film was a fictional take on a real-life tragedy, it had a line emphasizing the freezing water. 

“Anyway, I fell through some thin ice. And I’m telling ya, water that cold. Like right down there. It hits you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can’t breathe. You can’t think. At least not about anything but the pain.”


Now think of this line as you watch Nordblad, clad in nothing but a standard swimsuit, head into the water through an opening in the ice. Her immense control as she dives in is a testament to her resilience and belief in her abilities. 

Who is Johanna Nordblad?

Johanna Nordblad is a Finnish freediver, who became obsessed with the sport. She even competed at the freediving World Championships. Later, she set a Guinness World Record in 2015 for ‘Longest swim under ice – breath held (no fins, no diving suit) female’. Difficult? Not according to Nordblad.

In Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive, she says, “Just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean we should not try to achieve it. This is the only way we can learn something new about ourselves.”

Besides freediving, she is involved in the creation of a breath-holding application and is a photographer both under and above the water. 

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For many, seeing a hole in a frozen lake is a sign that they need to be going in the other direction. However, for Nordblad, it is a gateway to a beautiful place. As she looks up, director Ian Derry and editor Julian Quantrill permit us to witness and experience why being beneath the ice is beautiful.

What Works in Netflix- Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive?

A story set around the ice in the north of Finland, Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive brilliantly captures the hues of blue. This Netflix Original documentary lives up to the genre with a take on why Johanna Nordblad got into this activity and what it means to her. This, combined with the visuals on screen, lends weight to her words and helps transport the viewer into her world beneath the ice. 

There is an exquisite blue that penetrates the ice as she looks up; a blue that gets darker with each passing inch, making way for the black of the depths of the lake. This sight to behold may remain locked in your memory. 


For Nordblad, it is a place where time stands still, and she is seemingly in her element. A place of ultimate relaxation, where being calm is the key to being in control. Looking at her feats may inspire many ‘bandwagon’ freedivers. Director Ian Derry ensures that this documentary provides viewers with information about the potential perils of this activity. 

Given that this Finnish Netflix offering is set in the north and requires a thick enough layer of ice, it is great to see a subtle global warming message thrown in. Derry didn’t let it dominate the story behind Nordblad’s record-breaking feat, with the focus being on a person’s home-field advantage.


We have seen this in sports, that when one is familiar with their surroundings, they can perform at an elite level. A move away won’t really hamper anyone, but it will certainly prove to be distracting. Could that have affected Nordblad’s ability to stay calm beneath the ice?

Finally, I like that Derry and Quantrill refrained from using a created background score for the seconds before Nordblad entered the water. The diegetic sound serves as an apropos set-up for everyone to hold their breath. 

What’s Not Good About Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive?

It is quite disappointing that the documentary lasted for just about 38 minutes. It ensured that they maintained a single-minded focus on the ice dive. However, an in-depth exploration of the issue that plagued Nordblad in 2020 would have enhanced proceedings. More cuts in the scene where she swims beneath the ice could have lent to the tense feel and raised the stakes for those watching at home. 

The film is about 15-20 minutes too short. Hence, in the search to know more about this incredible person, audiences may hunt for other documentaries about her and drift away from the streamer. 

Should you watch Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive on Netflix?

Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive is a celebration of the human endurance and willpower to push the limits. It also is an attempt by Netflix to cast a spotlight on freediving and bring to light some inspirational stories. Tales of extraordinary achievements by ones who have families and daily jobs, just like many others. Watch it for the visuals, and to celebrate Johanna Nordblad’s impressive feat. 

Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive is now streaming on Netflix.

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