Running Time: 108 minutes
Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson
Directed By: Alister Grierson
Rating: 3 out of 10
A group of cave explorers is trapped in an unexplored cave system; they must find a way out before their supplies are exhausted.
I was not sure what to expect when I popped in Sanctum for a perusal. I thought I read somewhere that I would be mesmerized by the camera work and cinematography. I either misread the article or confused it with Werner Herzog’s cave movie because this movie looked like a low budget television show. The quality of the camera work is so bad that I never could appreciate the movie properly. Now that I write this I notice it was shot in 3-D and that is maybe where this film went wrong as I did not watch it in that dimension. Sanctum is the story of a group of cave explorers mapping out a giant cave system. Miles below the earth the crew gets trapped and must find a new way out to the surface through unexplored tunnels and freezing water.
Camera work aside the film is just boring. Without goblins or albino cave monsters chasing the explorers around the film is just a lot of rock and a lot of water. Maybe spelunkers will find this movie fascinating but I just didn’t see the appeal. We are introduced to the crew of cave explorers and right off the bat I knew the film was destined for failure. The explorers are made up of a bunch of characters that most viewers will not care about but more importantly they will intensely dislike. The constant bickering between them and their internal struggles seem super out of place when their lives are on the line. After the explorers get trapped in the cave system, they need to traverse miles and miles of uncharted tunnels and underwater lakes or face certain death. It could be just me but I was never once scared for them nor did I care if the group survived or not. I never got a rising sense of panic or claustrophobia that I was expecting from a cave movie. Sure the explorers faced tight spots, black water, and steep cliffs, but it all seemed a little bland for my taste.
The characters and actors are a glaring problem in this film as I mentioned above. The lead explorer is Frank McGuire played by Richard Roxburgh and he is the only redeeming quality in the acting department. His gruff and practical manner is a very believable portrayal when lives are on the line. I think you are supposed to hate his unemotional performance and yet he was the only person I cared about if they lived or not. He is the unquestioned leader and survivalist and I liked what he brought to this film. Frank’s son Josh played by Rhys Wakefield is an emotional mess of a character. He never seems comfortable on screen and brings up stupid things like Frank not being a good father when they could die at any moment. Every cool thing Frank did was erased by his lame son. The financier of this huge cave exploration was Carl played by Ioan Gruffudd. Gruffudd overacts for most of the film and his character seems to get more inconsistent as the movie rolls along. The rest of the explorers are made up of people you will forget the second they are off camera. The group constantly is questioning Frank’s decisions even though he is one of the best cave explorers in the world. The group fights, cries, bickers, and squabbles, and all I could think about was Frank should just have taken off on his own, and this would have been a much easier watch.
As the movie continues you will see a lot of rock and more water, and then more rock and more water, and then more rock and more water. I think you understand what to expect. The group struggles to survive and not all of them will make it. It isn’t hard to deduce who is going to die in this film judging by the character’s personalities. The underwater shots have some moments of being good and some of the death scenes are brutally effective. The group faces some tough choices and it does get you thinking about how you would react when trapped in penetrating darkness. But what little positives there were could not overcome the huge negatives. As the end finally arrives I was shocked I was still awake. The film has yawning caverns but it also has a yawn inducing story of survival.
Director Alister Grierson does nothing to make this film work. These explorers are in one of the most fear inducing places in the world and yet I never once felt scared for them. The camerawork is appalling and the characters even more so. Constant life on the line situations should inspire dread and it just never happens. The film is hastily slapped together and the never changing scenery only adds to the slow pacing. Not sure how I would have fixed this film as there are too many problems to have a decent solution. Or maybe cave movies are just not fun without things lurking in the shadows.
I cannot recommend this film as empty caves are as boring as they sound.
T Factor + If you like movies based on true stories then this could score higher on the rating scale.
T Factor – If you like solid characters in your dramas then this could score lower on the rating scale.
If you liked this movie reel recommendations: The Descent, Dante’s Peak.