Star Rating: 3.5/5
Sanctum had the potential to be a disaster to the point when the cast, director and producers alike would have attempted to revise the fact that they had been apart of the film. But Sanctum is not a catastrophe movie and it is surprisingly gripping.
The film is ‘inspired’ by true events. (What this means is anyone’s guess.) A group of cave divers attempt to see the last unknown, underwater cave in the world in Papa New Guinea. The divers, led by Carl the manager (Ioan Gruffudd – Titanic, King Arthur, Fantasic Four I & II), Frank (Richard Roxburgh – Mission Impossible 2, Moulin Rouge, Van Helsing), Josh (Rhys Wakefield – Home and Away, The Black Balloon), George (Dan Wyllie – Chopper, Animal Kingdom) and Victoria (Alice Parkinson – Where The Wild Things Are, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Pacific) are slowly but surely revealing the depths of the cave. That is until a storm breaks out above them. Before they know it, the cave is flooding. They are trapped. The only way out is down. Down, through previously unexplored areas.
The plot for Sanctum is simple and fairly predictable. We know that not everyone is going to survive, so it is just a question of who is next to fall. Yet, because the acting is terribly wooden and the dialogue is poor; it is hard to empathise or like any of the main characters. Their predicaments, and the way they behave in certain situations, seem quite realistic. Under such circumstances, survival is the only thing that matters. Everything else goes by the wayside and there is no time for sentiment. Nevertheless, the more the main characters try to be serious, the more pitifully amusing they become. (Also, why is it that the ‘good guys’ in the film never need food or water; but the ‘bad guys’ do?)
The acting, though, was never going to be Sanctum’s attraction. As a thriller, one hopes to feel one’s heart pounding against the chest. While the film takes a bit of time to get going (even though the film is not particularly long), Sanctum achieves this. That the characters go through tight spaces underwater makes one feel claustrophobic; unsettling one almost to the point of panic. (Especially if one does not like being stuck in a small space.)
The 3D feature of the movie has the further effect of making the audience feel as trapped as Frank, Carl, Josh, George and Victoria. This is in no small part due to the executive producer, James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar I, II & III). Just like in his last film, Avatar, Cameron successfully exploits the 3D effects to make one feel like they are in the predicament of those they are watching. In addition, his 3D images of the caves are stunning; seductive enough to make one believe that the potentially fatal dangers of cave digging/exploring are non-hazardous and worthwhile.
Arguably, the visuals and the 3D effects in Sanctum, to a degree, make up for what is lacking in the acting department. The director, Alister Grierson (Kokoda: 39th Battalion), and Cameron make the most out of a bland storyline; and turn it into an unexpectedly entertaining and nerve-shredding movie.