Notable Cast: Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Roxburgh
Review: “What could possibly go wrong while diving in caves…” Great, thanks for jinxing everything! Well, Sanctum set out to deliver a claustrophobic tale of 3D terror with the James Cameron seal of approval slapped on for all to see like a gold sticker from teacher. Well, apparently Cameron just wanted a chance to showcase his 3D technology and didn’t even glance at the script. Based on true events that happened to co-writer Andrew Wight, I feel horrible saying the writing was too sub par for you to be fully enthralled by the severity of the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I would never wish such extreme conditions on even my enemies, but as the film it tried to be, Sanctum was a sad failure.
The Esa-ala cave system is one of the largest and most least accessible cave systems in the world, but with so much left undiscovered has become a primary target for professional divers. At the time, master diver Frank McGuire (Roxburgh) is heading an expedition into the cave system accompanied by his crew and son Josh (Wakefield). Financier Carl (Gruffudd) decides to join the efforts in the cave, but only for a few days because of a looming storm system. But while the crew deals with situations in the cave, the storm unexpectedly starts early and begins to flood the cave. When the water seals their easy exit, Frank decides the only chance for survival is to follow the river and hope it leads to the ocean, or die trying. Weather isn’t the only obstacle for our travelers either, as tensions run high and the capacity to keep their cool reduces. It’s up to Frank to make decisions that could easily to turn out to be the groups last, but Frank’s experience may be everyone’s saving grace. Hopefully.
The trailer would like you to believe Sanctum is a dramatic adventure and a story of the struggle for survival, but plays out minus any real drama or tension. The main driving force of the story is the relationship between Frank and his son Josh. Well, what little relationship is there that is. It’s the tired story of “Wah my dad won’t let me live my life and only wants me to follow in his footsteps so I must rebel!” Frank drags Josh to all his cave expeditions, but the boy only wants a life of his own. How does he convey this? By acting like a baby back bitch and crying like an immature infant. Quick to accuse his father of heinous acts with no understanding of the circumstances his father is stuck in, Josh paints Frank as some evil cave diving Nazi set out to destroy his life. Meanwhile, Frank acts like a cave diving Nazi set out to destroy his son’s life. Seriously, Frank is up for anti-father of the year. All he does is yell at Josh and tell him what a screw up he is. From the start it’s obvious the film is trying to go from one extreme in the relationship to the complete other side, but not in a good way. The bad blood between father and son seems comically blown out of proportion to start, making their inevitable transformation into mutual respect even cheesier to watch. Roxburgh and Wakefield had terrible chemistry on-screen, and weren’t even believable as father and son most of the time. For being the dramatic focus of Sanctum, the writers really missed the mark on trying to create a compelling story about father and son.
Also, throw all survival skills out the window and watch as the characters delve into madness. Sanctum played out more like The Descent, except instead of cave dwelling mutants, the monster here was water. Room by room, the cave would kill a survivor in single fashion, whittling down the surviving members in order. Nothing beats the asinine ending though, as one of the remaining survivors attacks Frank, the only person with enough know how to guide the remaining group members out of the cave. Yes, in a giant tomb slowly filling with water, the survivors are too busy trying to kill themselves rather than work together and defy the odds. I get the panic and stress being in the situation may cause, but still, watching them fight at the end felt nothing short of a lame attempt by Hollywood to try and squeeze any drop of tension out of the situation. Instead, it just felt forced, out-of-place, and just downright stupid. Much like the drama, the “action” also seemed forced, predictable, and just nonsensical. Oh no, climbing over a pool of churning watcher labeled a “meat grinder.” What ever could go wrong? By the other actions in the movie, you didn’t even have to ask.
I’ll admit, I probably wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes down in the cave with impending doom around the corner, so the fact that it’s based on the experiences of one of the writers is amazing. But maybe this type of film wasn’t the proper medium to tell his tale. A documentary for example would have been a much more efficient type of film because then we know exactly what did and didn’t happen in real life without all the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Sanctum offers no comparison between the film and real events. It gets bogged down by predictable writing and forced drama, while we follow characters who are overblown stereotypes and irrational personalities. Not to mention the setting doesn’t elicit any type of claustrophobic fear, which you would think would be easy because the entire film is spent being trapped in caves slowly being filled with water. In this natural disaster film, you’ll find nothing but a strictly formulaic plot that makes Sanctum nothing more than some bargain bin adventure that just so happened to be filmed in James Cameron’s 3D technology.
Final Rating: 5 repetitive caves out of 10