‘Sanctum’: Diving into the depths of oblivion
Even Cameron can’t swim to the surface with ‘Sanctum’
There’s water, water everywhere. And dead bodies. And crazy spelunkers (who soon become dead bodies languishing in the ever-present water). But then again, anyone who would dive into the world’s largest unexplored cave system on the brink of a torrential downpour in the name of exploration is far beyond professional help. Sadly, “Sanctum,” with its atrocious acting, ear-grating script and generally clichéd existence, repels in those sad, sad footsteps.
“Sanctum,” executively produced by James Cameron (“Avatar,” “Titanic”) and directed by Alister Grierson (“Kokoda”), retells (in a way that shatters all notions of the phrase “based on a true story”) the harrowing tale of 15 cavers (including “Sanctum” producer and co-writer Andrew Wight) who were trapped underground for 36 hours during a 1988 Nullarbor cave expedition. In 1988, no one died. In 2011, the same thing cannot be said.
To start this idiotic endeavor, we’re slowly introduced to the handful of characters who will be delaying our eventual return to sanity. There’s the harden, brave leader, Frank (Richard Roxburgh, “Van Helsing”); his resentful son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield, “Home and Away”); the billionaire bankroller of this party, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd, “Fantastic 4”); his beauty queen girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson, “Where the Wild Things Are”); and Crazy George (Dan Wyllie, “Chopper”). There are a few other people, but they are about as important as common sense is in this movie. Following the epic cliché, “This cave’s not gonna beat me!” the motley crew descends into the depths of hell (aka a cave on the island of Papua New Guinea). Let’s get a show of hands: Who thinks this was a good idea?
To make matters worse (or more obvious), a cyclonic maelstrom bears down on the opening of the cave, effectively flushing everyone through the heretofore untouched tunnels and cutting off communication with the outside world (along with the original point of entry). The point of the expedition was to discover where the rainwater exited the cave and made its way to the sea. Now the group has no choice but to find it; it’s become a life-or-death situation. What happens next is a veritable cavern-full of clichés: divers freaking out, father and son not seeing eye to eye, people playing hero, people trying kill the others, lack of supplies (who knew you could survive so long on trail mix?), mercy killings and a host of other completely avoidable issues. The humanity! If only they had knew a storm was coming! Oh, wait… They did.
And to add insult to injury, it’s not just the crazy plot that makes you apoplectic. No, there’s has to be a dozen different themes running rampant. Here’s a quick rundown: man vs. God, man vs. Mother Nature, man vs. the sea, man vs. man, man vs. darkness (take a breath here), father vs. son, growing up, being merciful, status-altering epiphanies, letting go, never giving up and surviving at all costs while not losing your humanity. There’s probably a cache of other ideals, too, so it’s not hard to imagine why you would be confused as to what is actually going on. Of course, you could just ignore them all and watch the… deadly water?
But in all honesty, you can’t help but be sucked in. It’s like one of those awful B-rated monster movies (you know the ones, where a giant ice spider escaped a laboratory in the Andes and kills everyone but the hot scientist and her less-than-skilled love interest because they somehow aren’t stupid enough to try to attack the 10-foot beast head-on?) where you’re confused at first, angry at yourself for watching this bile two minutes later and completely engrossed after you see the first person get beheaded. There is a bit of an emotional flow in “Sanctum” at first, and for a while you go along with it. However, It’s no tribute to the merits of the movie. It’s natural to want the main characters to survive, so you become attached (despite the horrible writing).
The only flip side to this menagerie of foolishness is the stunning beauty of the movie. Cameron used the same image-acquisition technology he used on “Avatar,” and it really is beautiful. Even in 2-D (the Hermiston theater wasn’t playing it in 3-D), it was just breathtaking. But it’s kind of like taking to a fashion model: It’s pretty to look at, until it opens its mouth.
All in all, for all the hype, Cameron-attached promotion and pretty pictures, “Sanctum” is just a bad case of the bends. The moral of this story? Mother Nature always win. And bring extra batteries.
Two stars out of five.