28 02 2011


Last week I reviewed 127 Hours, a movie about one man’s struggle against the confines of nature. ‘Sanctum’ showcases a similar conflict, but fails to elicit the same emotions from its audience.

Sanctum has been heavily marketed as a James Cameron production. However, this is not to be confused with a James Cameron movie, such as The Abyss, or Avatar. Cameron is one of nine producers, and Sanctum is clearly lacking his distinctive touch.

Nevertheless, like Avatar, Sanctum introduces us to a world with which many will be unfamiliar. No, this movie does not take place on Pandora, but rather many kilometers below the surface of our own planet.

Sanctum begins with a helicopter ride over the pristine jungles of Papua New Guinea. Before long, the horizon is interrupted with a strange sight: a massive, round hole in the ground. This is the entrance to the large cave complex in which the entirety of Sanctum takes place.

Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is the leader of this expedition. As a ‘caver’, Frank’s goal is to map out the last, unexplored regions of our planet. He does it for the passion of caving, and his colleagues praise him for being on the same level as explorers like Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong.

Water + Darkness + Caves = Sanctum

The expedition takes a sudden turn for the worse when a tropical storm approaches. You don’t have to be a caver to understand the danger this poses: rain begins to fill the cavern and traps some members of the group inside.

The remainder of the movie is about the struggle to escape before rainfall submerges the cave system. The survivors face rising water and a dwindling supply of both oxygen and flashlight batteries. It is at this point that Sanctum becomes an average disaster film.

Sanctum misses out on several opportunities to stimulate the audience. The dark, submerged passageways of the cave are an environment ripe with fear, yet the movie does only an average job of playing off of this.

Furthermore, although there are some decent special effects in Sanctum, the use of 3D is poor. Its integration feels more like a cash grab by the producers than a genuine attempt to improve the movie.

There is also an emphasis on the relationship between Josh and his father. Frank has been too involved with his expeditions to be a good parent, while Josh does not share his passion for exploring. This conflict, and its inevitable resolution, are far too obvious.

I would imagine that Sanctum was a difficult movie for these actors to film – when they’re not fighting against a deluge of water, they’re squeezing through narrow, rocky passages. Quite often, they’re doing both. This is not a good film for those who fear water or tight spaces.

Overall, Sanctum would have worked better as a summer blockbuster: it is filled with special effects and lacking in its acting, writing and depth. It won’t make you think particularly hard about anything, but it does provide some entertainment on a chilly, February night.