REVIEW: Sanctum Wasn't Directed by James Cameron, But It's Dumb Enough to Seem So
In the interest of scientific exploration, I offer a few random dialogue samples from the 3-D cavediveapalooza survival adventure Sanctum: "Life's not a dress rehearsal -- you gotta seize the day!" "The exit! Shit!" "Where's my mask? Goddammit!" "I am not wearing the wetsuit of a dead person!" "You spend your lives wrapped in cotton wool! You want to play at being adventurous? Yeah, this is it!" And last but not least, the ever-popular "We've got to get out of here -- now!"
Sanctum wasn't directed by James Cameron -- he's merely an executive producer -- but the script is pure Cameron gibberooni, the kind of language that would embarrass a '40s comic-strip character if he found it penciled into one of his voice balloons. The supposition, maybe, is that in an alleged thrill ride of a movie like this one, the words aren't supposed to matter. (As they weren't supposed to matter in Cameron's tin-eared but visually massive Avatar.) And it's true that great visuals, or a great story, or deeply unself-conscious acting can be enough to make us look past awkward dialogue. But Sanctum is skimpy on those attributes. And aside from a few tense moments -- and a meager handful of impressive-looking effects -- the picture feels about as alive as a Viewmaster image of a rock formation.
It didn't have to be that way. Sanctum, an early title card informs us, is based on true events, and particularly for claustrophobic types, it offers a few moments of grueling verisimilitude. (The script is by John Garvin and Andrew Wight, the latter of whom really did have to fight his way out of a scary cave situation.) But director Alister Grierson doesn't give the story enough cinematic shape and weight. The movie is paced strangely -- it's not really a story, constructed of satisfying and elastic highs and lows, but a string of endurance tests featuring characters that, even well into the movie's second act, we're not sure we care about.
The hero of this barely-a-story is Josh (Rhys Wakefield), a disaffected blond kid who grumbles when he's invited to tag along with his dad, Frank (Richard Roxburgh), an ace cave explorer who's already well into a serious assignment: He's leading an expedition into Esa Ala, in Papua New Guinea, which, we're told in a bit of helpful exposition, is one of the largest unexplored cave systems in the world. Josh is joining the already-in-progress expedition, accompanied by Frank's boss, Carl (the Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, playing a tight-ass American) and Carl's hot new girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), who's handy to have around partly for the fact that she wears her tight adventure-babe jerseys zipped down to there.
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