Here are two marketing ploys that are really not working for me anymore: "Based on true facts" and "shot in real 3D." I figured that James Cameron's role as producer and the 3D cinema magic would all but force Sanctum to deliver. It doesn't. I know I'm not known for being lavish with my praise, but this truly is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
The waterlogged story involves an underwater cave-diving team on an expedition to explore New Guinea's Esa-ala Cave, one of the least-accessible cave systems in the world. When a flash flood cuts off their exit, the team is caught in a life-or-death situation. With supplies dwindling, the divers must navigate a treacherous labyrinth to find a new escape route or die in the process.
Sounds promising, right? What could have been a nice harrowing survival tale instead give us yet another father-son reconciliation account through cathartic events, but it's all done poorly. Setting us up with transparencies like: Will the boy-man and gruff-strict dad reconcile their differences? Will their survival tactics intertwine? Will they find out something they never knew about each other and themselves? Will it dig as deep as the cave they so expertly plunder through? Will the duo bond like no other has before them? Will there be painful decisions made? Will domestic squabbles take on the mentality of the father-son Oedipal complex? Gimme a break.
From the first line of dialogue, Sanctum feels forced and phony. The screenplay seems like it was taken from a joke book of clichés and the acting is atrocious throughout. This wannabe action yarn comes off like a lame version of The Descent, but without the cool monsters.
Carl Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards in The Fantastic Four) annoys us instantly with his take on his role, exposing a fake personality that only lame actors can convey. Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge) as Frank has the juiciest role, but has no original lines. Dan Wyllie's George has a moment or two, climber Victoria (Alice Parkinson) is all wisecrack and worry (never a good combo) and Rhys Wakefield's estranged 17-year-old son, Josh, is all crybaby with unbelievable mood swings.
Wretched dialogue is inserted to invent drama to establish a "story" that went on behind cave doors, relying heavily on all the conventions of unoriginal, over-used catch phrases stolen from countless other bad movies. If divers and underwater explorers turned first-time writers Andrew Wight and John Garvin are going to call it "based on true facts," then they owe it to us to make up something good and not this terribly generic.
Sanctum's 3D tries its hardest to enthrall, as the camera and characters squiggle through tiny tunnels, but there was no need for 3D effects - we're right there with them without having to see pockmarked rocks in the foreground. We're constantly barraged with sweeping, emotional music to invoke the bosom to swell.
Director Alister Grierson was obviously under Producer Cameron's thumb trying to invoke an Abbyss feel, but came off more like Cameron's Piranha Part Two: The Spawning without the demon fish or any imaginative ideas. Everything is so beyond predictable that this movie could make one feel downright clairvoyant. When Frank teaches Josh Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan poem, it just about threw me out of the theater. My feet were poised to bolt. Believe me, if this one doesn't make number one on my worst top-ten list next year, it will be a miracle.
Just recently, a more effective survival movie came out (127 hrs) and one guy and a rock were more intense and entertaining than this entire expedition and a cave. Sanctum's litany of bad calls is endless. Let's just call it a fiasco and be done with it - I'd rather watch my crunchy cereal flakes get soggy than watch this watered-down disaster. I came out of the theater gasping for fresh air after being submerged in this atrocity for an hour and 43 minutes.
Starring Richard Roxburgh, Rhys
Wakefield, Carl Gruffudd, Alice
Parkinson, Dan Wyllie
Directed by Alister Grierson