Film Review – Sanctum

If there is a lesson to be learned from watching Sanctum (2010), it is this: do NOT be a stupid person. No offense to the stupid people out there, but the characters that fill up this sad excuse of a suspense thriller are so head-scratchingly idiotic that it makes you wonder just how in the world they managed to be put their swimsuits on. Let’s think about this logically: you don’t get a vehicle license without first learning how to properly drive a car, you don’t get to climb Mt. Everest without learning how to use proper equipment, and you don’t get to sky dive without learning how to pull your parachute chord. So why exactly do any of these people jump headfirst in to a deep, unexplored cavern in the first place? What exactly were they hoping to find other than trouble?

It’s no wonder that the leader of the expedition group, Frank (Richard Roxburgh), is one pissed off dude—he has to spend day and night around these nincompoops that pretend like they know what they’re doing, but when the chips are down end up panicking and putting everyone else in danger. His son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) is an experienced climber, and has gone through a number of explorations with him, which makes it even more frustrating that the film opens with Josh forgetting to bring extra oxygen tanks down to the crew. For a kid that knows the dangers of the cave and how important it is to follow every safety precaution to the letter, it’s rather disappointing that he would make such a careless mistake. Frank spends most of the film walking around with a mean grimace on his face, yelling out to others, telling them to stop what they’re doing, do what he says, or both at the exact same time. Can you blame him? If I was put in to his position, I would be pretty pissed off also. It’s like having to baby-sit a bunch of toddlers who just won’t listen to a word you have to say.

But let me slow down for a moment before I get ahead of myself. The film involves a team of underwater cave divers sent on a task to explore the largest unexplored cave system in the world, the South Pacific’s Esa-ala Caves. For months, the team has explored the cave’s deep trenches, trying to find the route that takes the water from the surface down into the ocean. To say that the inside of the caves are big is like saying the Himalayas are a series of steep hills, as there are rooms inside the caves so large that it seems you could fit a football stadium inside. Frank’s team is accompanied by his financier, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), and Carl’s mountain-climbing wife, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), who join the team partly for the exploration, but mostly for the thrill of adventure. And there’s Josh, who holds a grudge against his father because…well, he really likes his job. Gee, I didn’t know someone following his or her passion could get someone so riled up.

The first act of the film is all about the exploration of the caves, and I have to be honest, the caves look amazing. James Cameron, who produced the film, brought the same kind of technology he developed for his own films here, and the result is some very stunning imagery. It’s unfortunate that the cinematography had to be tainted with the use of 3D, as I felt it did nothing to enhance the quality of the photography that was already amazing to see in the first place. When the divers go deep into the waters, the environments are beautiful, to say the least. There’s a kind of haunting quality to this unseen place, like finding a whole new world for the very first time. I can understand why people would be addicted to the thrill of these expeditions; it really is quite the sight to see. Unfortunately, the rest of the film had to happen, and with a large storm pouring down rain from above, the cave quickly fills up with water. With dwindling food and supplies, and with no chance of rescue, the group has to band together to find a way out of the caves, having to maneuver through treacherous landscapes to reach their destination.

There are too many problems with the film that prevent it from being plausible in any kind of real world. The first is the very idea that the expedition would continue, knowing full well that there was a storm heading their way. “We have about two to three more days before this place is flooded,” said one character. Yeah right, like that would be plenty of time for them to continue exploring and escape out of harm’s way. The next, as mentioned before, is how idiotic and out of character nearly all of these people seem to be. The writers of the film (Andrew Wight/John Garvin), along with the director (Alister Grierson), did not provide any of the supporting characters with any kind of common sense or know-how. These people are supposed to be experienced, well-trained divers and climbers, and yet none of them seem to act like that. An experienced diver should know what to do if their oxygen tank runs out, and that they should never venture out without a back-up. An experienced climber should know that they cannot panic if they get tangled in their ropes, and to never, ever use their knife to free themselves. Even the dialogue the characters speak is unbelievable. You would think that James Cameron, with all of his monetary success, would be able to hire a writer that would provide the characters with some sort of realism, but unfortunately not. There is no deep motivation to these characters other than the fact that nearly all of them were meant to not listen to Frank’s instructions.

It’s not very exciting, or suspenseful, or thrilling. There is no sense of hope or life overcoming the odds, but a very sad sense of bleakness that seems to go on and on. After the first half-hour of seeing the characters either climbing, swimming, or dying, I became bored to the point where I started to play a guessing game as to which characters would end up kicking the bucket next. Do yourself a favor, instead of paying the overpriced amount of watching this 3D film, go to your local video store and pick up The Descent (2005), a much better film set in nearly the exact same environment. You’ll end up having a much more satisfying experience, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg doing it.

Final Grade: C-


Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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