Trying to get butts in as many seats as possible, Universal Studios promoted the $30-million-budgeted Sanctum as “James Cameron’s Sanctum” … “from the producer of Avatar and Titanic,” it announced. And just to compel you even further, it told you that it was filmed in Real 3-D. Not that after-the-film-is-completed-transfer-to-3-D, but ACTUAL 3-D. So why didn’t this campaign work? After all, Avatar and Titanic are two of the highest grossing films of all time. People know them. They’ve seen them. They probably own them. I’m just hazarding a guess here, but maybe people found out that Cameron didn’t actually direct Sanctum? (I doubt it. I don’t think the average cinemagoer could name more than five directors?) That is was helmed by the relatively unknown Alister Grierson, who was making only his second feature film? It might be because Sanctum doesn’t have a “big star” attached to it. I know who Richard Roxburgh (Van Helsing, Moulin Rouge) and Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) are, but does Joe Average? I’m thinking, “no.” Maybe the name Cameron set people’s expectations too high? For whatever reason – and I blame poor critical reception – the movie didn’t make back its money. It bombed, ladies and gentlemen. But that shouldn’t keep you from seeing it. It’s better than the box office says it is.
Inspired by a true story, Sanctum is set in Papua New Guinea, where an underwater cave team has spent the last five years charting the interior of one enormous cave. In it, very far beneath the surface, we find Frank (Roxburgh), a grumpy, very knowledgeable cave explorer; Crazy George (Dan Wylie), a “retired” member of the team because he suffered from the bends years ago; Judes (Allison Cratchley); and several other people. (I won’t mention them because they aren’t on the screen after the first 10 minutes.) On the surface, American financier Carl (Gruffudd), his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and Josh (Rhys Wakefield), Frank’s son, are arriving by helicopter for a descent into the cave mouth. They are aided by Luko (Cramer Cain), a native man. Once Josh rejoins the team, he gets an earful about how his refusal to get the backup air tanks has landed him on his dad’s “shit list.” The tension between father and son continues throughout the film. His irresponsible actions also make the first tragedy of the film possible. But before the team can mourn the death of one of their own, a storm three days out gets an upgrade, and soon high winds turn into a cyclone. Horrible weather conditions topside mean that some of the team members are stuck inside of a rapidly filling cave. Led by Frank, they navigate tight openings and ascend cave walls, all the time trying to keep from dying. (They aren’t very successful in this goal.)
With a screenplay by Andrew Wight, an Australian underwater explorer and filmmaker, and John Garvin, a first-timer, Sanctum won’t be winning any writing awards. The characters are fairly one-dimensional, the conflict pretty bog standard, and the dialogue pretty typical of B-level films. Ok, so they aren’t spouting eloquent prose and having deep and meaningful conversations about life and death … I didn’t really expect that from this film. What did I expect? Peril. This is a disaster movie. Some haters – and there are plenty of them out there – said that Sanctum was boring. I guess that depends on what scares you. I’m both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning, so this flick did the trick. All you have to do is show me some people trying to squeeze through a tight space – underwater – and then have them get stuck. That’s it. It’s over for me. I’m sweating like I just ran a marathon in the desert. I would never in my life deep sea dive. I would never go cave exploring. But I will watch movies in which people do these things, I will be freaked out by their actions, and then I will come away loving the experience. (127 Hours had me on the edge of my seat.)
Sanctum feels a lot like The Descent (2005), only there aren’t any uber-creepy Gollumesque monsters pursuing our protagonists. And there are The Abyss (1989) aspects to it, but maybe that’s because of the underwater diving scenes and there is discussion of having the bends. (You won’t find any water-based aliens). People who hate this movie will probably say it’s more like the much reviled The Cave (2005), although, again, no “bloodthirsty creatures” of which to speak. Maybe that would have helped Sanctum at the box office. It needed some dinosaurs or Papua New Guinea killer slugs to liven things up. Nah. I was fine with it as it was, because, as I said, I’m squeamish about this sort of stuff anyway.
I will say this about the film: The acting is all over the place. Roxburgh growls throughout much of the film. Gruffudd overacts and, by the end, seems truly psychotic. Wakefield gives a performance you might expect to see in a soap opera. But, again, for some reason, I wasn’t particularly bothered by any of these things. The film has a fairly significant body count – typically the result of people making bad decisions – and some nice underwater shots. The pacing was such that I didn’t keep checking my watch. And the peril was significant enough to hold my interest. Now I only wish I had seen it in the cinema in 3-D. It could have afforded an interesting experience.
Not a great film, but I’ve endured much worse. 2.75 stars out of 5.
Have Your Say
Powered by Facebook Comments