SANCTUM: Critic Finds Undersea Flick Emotionally Hollow

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
SANCTUM: Critic Finds Undersea Flick Emotionally Hollow

RICHMOND, VA (HNN) - Alister Grierson’s “Sanctum” will no doubt remind some viewers of “The Descent,” what with all its spelunking, claustrophobic tendencies, and the struggle for survival, so already it’s starting off on the wrong foot.

However, the problems only get worse from there. Who in their right mind would have thought that a film about crawling through caves, minus any thrills or excitement, would make for an interesting experience?

 The film begins with a few quick scenes that try to set up some semblance of a plot. Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is the leader of an expedition that is trying to map a large network of caves in Papua New Guinea. He is doing this in an attempt to find where the water in the cave lets out into a nearby sea. Why he is doing this is completely inexplicable.

 He is joined by a few others, most importantly his son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield). Not long after Josh’s his arrival, a major storm hits the area, flooding the cave, trapping them inside with a few others. Since it’s impossible for them to get out the way they came in, they must find another way out, if one even exists, so they plunge forward into the dark, expansive network of tunnels with only a few breathing apparatuses and other equipment, hoping to make it out alive before their supplies run out.

 The main problem here is in the storyline. The film basically consists of a few people trying to make their way through multiple caves and is occasionally interrupted by a few bland action sequences. However, whenever it comes time for one of these action sequences, it is almost impossible to tell what’s going on because of the low level of lighting. Adding to this is the frenetic editing that jumps around so much that we never really get a glimpse of what the problem is.

 It wouldn’t have been half as bad if we could at least see what was happening. A film can have a bad storyline, but at least have entertaining sequences to keep the audience awake, but when you make it so that you can’t see them, the blandness and the silliness of the storyline end up being the thing you remember most. This ends up turning the film into about 100 minutes of nothing but tedium.

 The characters themselves were another big problem. Notice how I only mentioned Frank and Josh. Well, that’s because the others end up making no difference whatsoever and were not memorable enough to recall. The screenplay, written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight, offers no character development for any of them. It’s a testament to the level of the characters when you can say that, not only if they were all to die in the next instance, it wouldn’t matter to the audience in the least, but also that you’re actually rooting for it to happen, just so the film will end that much faster.

 It certainly didn’t help that the performers were not able to bring these characters to life, but then again, who can blame them? They are given nothing to work with, so what we end up getting are characters that we never end up caring about in the least. There’s not really anyone of major noteworthiness in “Sanctum.” Top billing goes to Richard Roxburgh, whom you may remember as The Duke from “Moulin Rouge!” Remembering this merely made me wish I was watching that film again instead of this one.

 In an attempt to lure audiences into theaters, the trailers and TV spots have been using the name of producer James Cameron, thinking that people would be fooled into believing he actually had something to do with the making of the film and that it might have some quality to it. Luckily, the ploy didn’t work as the film did pretty poorly at the box office. It may make its money back, but it will have to crawl to get there.

 Though the movie is being advertised as being in 3-D, I sought out a 2-D screening instead. I can only imagine how bland the film would have looked with the extra dimension, or how pointless such an “upgrade” would be to a film like this. Wow! A rock! Ooo, look! Another rock! The film’s lack of a decent story, character development, and performances, as well as its emotional hollowness, make it not worth the time in any format. 1.5/4 stars.