I’ve been mulling over the movie Sanctum for the better part of week and I haven’t been able to top what one man said about it while walking of the theater: “It felt like I was watching a documentary.” With that one exclamation, he predicted the results of the opening weekend box office – less than $10 million. That’s not good for a film that had James Cameron’s name splattered over everyone’s television for several months. They even tried to suck people in by touting the 3-D gimmick, adding that it was filmed using the same cameras that were used in Avatar. While I have no delusions that 3-D is going to finally die, it might be a sign that people are finally starting to wake up to the $3-a-pop-theft that is 3-D movies. When answering questions from the marketing people at the screening, that same man said that the 3-D was better than most movies, but still unnecessary. Finally, an audience member I won’t ridicule.
Even if the 3-D had been spectacular, it wouldn’t have saved this film. Cameron’s name was attached to this film specifically to hype up the 3-D camera technology being used to make caves seem more real. If you’ve ever been to Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Cave, or Marvel Cavern (or a cave in some other country), you know that unless the camera is really a teleporter you’re going to be underwhelmed by the visuals. Like the Grand Canyon, pictures do not do caves justice. Since the visuals weren’t spectacular, more obvious is the lack of plot, well-developed characters, creativity, and decent acting.
Sanctum is about a bunch of people exploring a cave for no reason that makes any sense. Their stated goal is to find an underwater tunnel that leads to the ocean, but they never say why that is important. They just spout clichés about exploration, expecting the audience to buy that as a premise for a movie not billed as a documentary. We would have accepted something as trite as “to set a world record,” but that might have distracted us from the “sweet” 3-D cave shots. Adding insult to injury, the film was inspired by Andrew Wight’s (screenwriter) near-death, underwater caving experience. And you thought Cameron had a big ego.
The expedition is led by Frank (Richard Roxburgh), a world renowned diver/caver, and funded by Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), a rich, thrillseeking ass clown. Yes, that’s the proper way to describe a guy who flies his own helicopter, base jumps into a cave, films himself for National Geographic, and lords his money over everyone involved in the endeavor. To make matters worse, Gruffudd’s acting and delivery is so atrocious, we hope he’s the first one to die.
Oops, did I spoil the movie? In case you didn’t know, this movie is really about a bunch of people trying to find an alternate exit when a hurricane floods the cave entrance. I know – I don’t believe it either. Somehow, a bunch of people who knew a hurricane was coming still managed to get trapped in a miles-deep cave system. I know weather predictions are a little spotty, but hurricanes aren’t a surprise. The support staff is tracking the hurricane and tells the team that they have two to three days to get out, and then suddenly, the storm is right on top of them. It could be they were distracted by the random aborigine with the bone through his nose and misread their computer, but that doesn’t explain why Carl, Carl’s girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and Frank’s son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), decided to jump INTO the cave with a hurricane bearing down on them. All of this happens in the first ten minutes of the film, preceded by the biggest spoiler ever – an opening shot of Josh floating alone under water, then waking up. Really, producers? Did you purposely sabotage the movie or are you just that stupid? One minute into the film and the only questions we have are how the rest of them die and in what order.
Just to prove that the writers are as uncreative as the nine (yes, NINE) producers, the screenplay plays out in the most predictable way possible – obstacle, someone dies, they move along for approximately ten minutes, obstacle, someone dies, they move along for approximately ten minutes, rinse, lather, repeat. Adding to the predictability is the father-son love-hate relationship and inevitable forgiveness, the loyal sidekick, George, who sacrifices himself for the good of the team, the timely mental breakdown of the egotistical Frank, and the fodder of the group rounding out the bodies soon to be strewn about the cave. All of this wouldn’t have been so bad if the story hadn’t been so implausible. Why would the world’s leading cave diver eschew safety by not getting his team out, or bringing extra oxygen tanks on dives, or not planning for any scenario that might put them in danger? Every time someone dies, he says “they knew the risks, they chose…” and moves on to the next soon-to-be gravesite. In addition, the team had been in the cave for weeks, set up elaborate equipment and communications, yet forgot to bring extra supplies like food, wet suits, diving suits, or oxygen tanks. Considering the evidence, it’s almost as if Frank actually meant for everyone to die.
As insipid as this film was, there were moments of tension and gore that kept the audience from falling into a 3-D headache-induced coma and distracted us from the amateurish acting. In particular, Victoria’s demise will have you wincing (I won’t spoil that for you) and you’ll find yourself holding your breath whenever someone is near to drowning.
I tried to find out how similar Wight’s experience was to what was portrayed. Sadly, the only thing I could find is that he was trapped in a cave with a group of people for two days and had to find another way out after their entrance collapsed. Since nobody has ever heard this story, it’s safe to assume that nobody died and that it was very uneventful. If only they’d remembered to bring their 3-D camera, we might have gotten a movie worth watching.
Rating: Ask for seven dollars back. My rating is as uninspired as the film.