REVIEW: Sanctum Wasn't Directed by James Cameron, But It's Dumb Enough to Seem So

Movieline Score: 4

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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  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    For what it's worth, I really like this bit of dialogue from "Avatar":
    Alright, look -- I don't have the answers
    yet, I'm just now starting to even frame
    the questions. What we think we know --
    is that there's some kind of
    electrochemical communication between the
    roots of the trees. Like the synapses
    between neurons. Each tree has ten to the
    fourth connections to the trees around
    it, and there are ten to the twelfth
    trees on Pandora --
    That's a lot I'm guessing.
    That's more connections than the human
    brain. You get it? It's a network -- a
    global network. And the Na'vi can access
    it -- they can upload and download data --
    memories -- at sites like the one you
    What the hell have you people been
    smoking out there? They're just.
    Goddamn. Trees.
    The dialogue's not embarrassing. What is is Cameron being completely unaware that Selfridge here comes close to being the Ripley to Grace's Carter Burke -- if only the "network" had something else on its mind rather than jungle homeostasis.
    No good. How do we know it'll
    effect their biochemistry? I say
    we take off and nuke the entire
    site from orbit. It's the only
    way to be sure.
    Now hold on a second. I'm not
    authorizing that action.
    Why not?
    This is clearly an important
    species we're dealing with here.
    We can't just arbitrarily
    exterminate them --

  • Feet of Courier says:

    Come on, shouldn't the headline for this article be, "StephieZ says, "Sanctum: 33% better than Best Pic Nom "Inception"."?