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Movie Reviews




Released: 3rd February 2011

Directed By: Alister Grierson

Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd

Certificate: 12A

Reviewed By: Luke Walkley

With a relatively unknown cast and James Cameron’s name plastered all over it as Executive Producer, Sanctum (directed by Alister Grierson) appeared to be an interesting proposition. An unfamiliar take on an idea previously seen inThe Abyss and The Descent, rather than focus on the dangers and nasty beings that lay in wait in the darkness, Sanctum attempts to create its horror element using the cave itself as the major fear factor.

Sanctum follows the story of a group of divers exploring one of the few remaining caves on the face of Earth, where no man has been before. The expedition led by experienced Diver Frank (Richard Roxburgh) appears to be going well and Frank’s son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) joins him in the cave along with the financier of the mission, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd). As they make their way through the cave’s inner tunnels, they lose communication with the surface team. Without communication they are unaware of the massive storm that is bombarding the cave entrance with torrents of rainwater. With the cave entrance blocked, the explorers must hope that the further into the darkness they go they can find another way out of the cave.

James Cameron developed this project alongside Avatar so as to perfect the groundbreaking 3D used in both. This was one of the main reasons the film had generated some interest. However, Sanctum’s visuals suffer from the film being too dark to enjoy the 3D throughout the whole film, whereas Avatars bright colours and stunning scenery complimented the 3D perfectly. During darker scenes in the caves tunnels, the depth perception becomes unnecessary. This wouldn’t actually matter if the film’s content was good enough to carry itself, however it wasn’t, not by a long shot.

In truth, the film can be summed up in one line : ‘A group of people running away from some water’. The idea itself wasn’t bad as mentioned earlier. However, the films premise takes over an hour and a half to explain the dangers of coming face to face with nature whereas 127 Hours, despite only scratching the surface of climbing and caving aspect at the beginning of the film, created more suspense and fear in a 10 minute introduction than Sanctum managed throughout the whole film.

This could be due to the lack of experience of the actors, however as you will see in the Coen brothers True Grit and the acting of 14 year old Hayley Steinfeld, age and experience is no substitute for talent. The acting is not below-par all the time; sometimes it’s downright awful. There’s no chemistry between any of the actors, ultimately making it impossible to feel for the struggle of Father and Son as they act like they don’t even know each other. The psychological aspect of being trapped isn’t even explored (excuse the pun). This could have been an area where the film excelled, the mental challenges as well as the physical, but the writers and director failed to show this in anyway.

An issue that kept cropping up throughout was also the lack of explanation of diving/climbing equipment and techniques. The group talk about “de pressurizing”, assuming the audience knows why this must occur. It doesn’t help matters that they use this as one of the main events later on in the film, and it becomes a guessing game for the vast majority of viewers as to why certain incidents happen.

The film wasn’t a complete travesty; one or two short scenes are well crafted, with the 3D aspect used quite well to set the scene. Though for every two or three minutes where the film is bearable there are twenty minutes where it’s not.

Sanctum is just ‘one of those films’; literally there to fill the gap in a director’s/actor’s résumé. Cameron has said he developed it alongside Avatar and that is clear. Imagine a motorbike and sidecar: if the sidecar disconnects, the motorbike carries on down the road but the sidecar crashes and burns. You can take your pick as to which film is the sidecar of Cameron’s 3D project.

The film isn’t as bad as some offerings of the past eighteen months, but it comes pretty close. We have seen some fantastic films in that time as well. Both good and bad are remembered for different reasons. Sanctum is one of those films that finds itself in the forgettable category; it certainly won’t live long in the memory of the majority of its watchers and is proof that sometimes some ideas are best left unexplored.

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