Friday, April 22, 2011


As published in F*** Magazine

2011 Release

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd
Directed by: Alister Grierson

            The poster proudly trumpets “from executive producer James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic”. When your executive producer is the biggest selling point, that might not be a good sign. Filmed in 3D, this cave-diving adventure thriller was photographed with Cameron’s Fusion Camera System – but can an underwater-set film match up to The Abyss with only Cameron’s camera system and without the man himself at the helm?

            Inspired by the experiences of co-writer Andrew Wight, Sanctum tells of respected cave diver Frank (Roxburgh) and his son Josh (Wakefield), who become trapped in the Esa’ala Cave in Papua New Guinea as it begins to flood during a monsoon. With them are the wealthy expedition bank-roller Carl (Gruffudd) and his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), who quickly realize that a cave such as Esa’ala is no place for tourists – however, Carl’s hot-headed and competitive nature puts him at odds with Frank, who is himself estranged from his son.

            Sanctum is pretty much a documentary dressed up as an adventure film, so on the one hand there are awe-inspiring visuals of underwater caverns and the like, and on the other there’s the cliché-ridden story and hokey screenplay. There’s the father-and-son subplot, the arrogant rich guy and his girlfriend who are only good for getting everyone into trouble, and life-or-death situations far beneath the earth’s surface.

            While the plot and scenarios aren’t realistic per se, the individual situations are, and the film plays on the primal fear of death by drowning, and emphasizes the importance of staying calm during unpredictable crisis situations. The tension is sustained and the peril palpable and several scenes are genuinely frightening.

The transitions from the actors to their diving stunt doubles are seamless and unnoticeable and there’s a good balance between location, soundstage and CGI footage. This probably would look great in 3D (I saw the 2D version), but there’s a little too much squeezing through cramped spaces and not enough of the awe-inspiring cavern shots.

Richard Roxburgh is mostly under-appreciated in Hollywood, often cast in depthless villain roles. He’s very good here and is pretty believable as a professional cave-diver. Rhys Wakefield is proving himself as a rising young talent, but may have some trouble breaking into Hollywood, and for one, can’t deliver the F-word to save his life (he has about twenty of them).

 Unfortunately the whole thing is ruined by Ioan Gruffudd, who delivers a staggeringly bad performance that is far from (Mr) fantastic. In between the whining and the histrionics, sure he makes his character seem unlikable, but doesn’t give any reason for him to be in the movie in the first place.

Sanctum manages to hang on to some of that adventure movie spirit, and there is a thrill in exploring “caverns measureless to man” from the comfort of a movie theatre, but there’s not much to hold the film together and the spectacle doesn’t quite make up for it either.


Jedd Jong


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