(15) Running time: 108 mins
Director: Alister Grierson
Writers: John Gavin, Andrew Wight
Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Allison Cratchley, Christopher Baker, Richard Roxburgh
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
It was a clever marketing move to slap James Cameron’s name on the poster for Sanctum, and with the word 3D on their as well, I guess movie goers had their hopes a little too high for this true sotry of disaster and Fatherly love. I didn’t have the “pleasure” of seeing this in 3D but on seeing the film I don’t recall much that would have been enhanced by it. But anyway, it was a good idea all the same and probably gained a few extra viewers because of it, but would those viewers then be happy they fell for such a trick, was I? The plain and simple answer is no, no I wasn’t and I feel bad saying this but Sanctum is not a very good film. That’s not to say it doesn’t try, it’s just the director just doesn’t quite have the skills to pull off both nail biting action and special effects AND an emotionally driven story.
The story is pretty basic, a team of caving experts are getting funding by some rich fella who rarely gets his hands dirty and actually takes part in any caving. Lead by master caver/diver Frank (Roxburgh) the expedition to find caves “never seen by a human” is well under way and the crew are already in the underwater caves and have set up a sort of base camp. With some of them exhausted, you know there is a recipe for disaster. The caves are situated in the heart of the South Pacific’s Esa-ala cave system, in a massive jungle where you could easily get cut off from any human contact. The caves lead out to the sea and it is Frank’s job to explore this never used system with his team. His Son arrives after meeting the rich guy who is funding them and in a superb shot from a helicopter, we see just how incredible this cave system is, a great big black hole in the middle on the jungle. The rich fella is Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) and he has brought his in-experienced and painfully annoying girlfriend along with him. Her name is Victoria (Alice Parkinson) and on this performance I doubt you’ll hear from her again. Frank’s Son Josh (Wakefield) is one of the best climbers on the team and for now, Father and Son are at each others throats. I dunno if what I have just said gives anything away, but just writing it makes me realise how painfully obvious the character set up is, you can pretty much figure out what will happen to each and every one of them. And here lies the films main issue, the characters.
Each and every one of them is written from a bloody text book on cliche’s, and every little response, joke or moment of heroism is copied from other disaster films and nothing feels fresh. The script is dire, in fact the script is so bad at times all you can do is hold you head in embarrassment. The actors delivers their lines rushed with a look of panic about them and in a film where you really really need to believe in the characters you just can’t. I felt so detached from the cast that all the efforts with the special effects, the danger, the tension or moments of pure beauty just end up lost, wasted by some idiot delivering another dreadful line like their life depended on it or pulling a face that says a thousand words, but it a thousand wrong words. This film would have worked much better as a silent movie and I don’t understand how a perfectionist like James Cameron could let this happen. To be fair Cameron was only executive producer but surely someone must’ve spotted where this film was going wrong? There is light at the end of the tunnel though and that comes in the form of Frank, by a mile the best actor and best character on screen, with a strong Australian accent you cannot help but like him and, at last, we have a character to actually care about when things go wrong, and they do go wrong and this is where the film works (almost)
A storm is headed their way and the news is the caves will flood,so some of the explorers head back up top while Frank keeps his best down in the caves and plan to ride out the storm and continue exploring, after all they have just squeezed through a new cave and found a whole new area off the map and the camera work when we get inside this new area is dazzling. However, the storm comes but it is much worse than anticipated and things go from bad to worse as the waters rise and become violent, washing are crew deeper into the caves. Josh, while leaving, decides to go back for his old man, rich man Carl and his headache inducing girlfriend Victoria have also ended up stuck, as have a few crew. The special effects now go into overdrive and the film suddenly takes on a frantic pace as our team struggle to survive all that nature throws at them. Frank has to make some tough decisions when his friends get hurt, will his relationship with his Son ever be fixed, will Victoria ever listen to any bloody advice and just how the hell do they get out alive?
When this film works it really works. We see the team end up in horrible situations in uncomfortable enclosed spaces, we see them suffering from the bends or madness, they run out of air, they argue and everything you expect to go wrong does go wrong. The camera work is fantastic, pulling back to give you incredible shots of the cave system, and getting up close and personal when the crew are in a tight squeeze. The excellent shots really add to the often nail biting tension and this is where the director really shows his skill. If you want a good disaster film, then Sanctum delivers and will actually have you gasping for air at times, its just a shame that everything else about this film is rubbish, the terrible acting, dire script and cliched characters make Sanctum very hard to like and yet the clear effort put in to the effects, camera work and disaster moments make the film very hard to dislike.