Revealed: The Secret to Enjoying Sanctum

Sanctum, last weekend's James Cameron-produced underwater adventure, was not exactly a hit with critics nor the box-office. And, if I'm being honest, I very much despised this movie. But then I really started thinking about it -- really trying to figure out what director Alister Grierson was trying to accomplish. Finally, I think I've figured out the true meaning (if not necessarily the intent) of Sanctum: It's a movie about a serial killer.

Obviously, spoiler alerts are in effect at this point (who knows -- you still might go see Sanctum). But if you've viewed the movie, it's worth considering from this much more enjoyable perspective. After all, while Sanctum tries to convey that it's a film about survival in a cave system that's been flooded due to a massive storm system, the storm is not the enemy. The real danger all comes from Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), who uses the storm to start his bloody rampage.

Let's look at the evidence, starting with how many people Frank kills during his reign of terror. First, before the storm even hits, he goes on an underwater expedition with a female diver named Judes (Allison Cratchley). Judes, as other characters mention, looks physically exhausted and probably should no longer be diving, but Frank lets her accompany him. Why? Because she is weak and can easily be killed.

During their exploration, Frank "notices" that Judes' air hose is "leaking." As a viewer, I certainly didn't notice the leak -- at least not until Frank reaches to "fix" it and it mysteriously comes unattached. There are cameras watching, so Frank offers Judes his own air hose -- temporarily, anyway, only to fight his victim away when she wants more. She eventually drowns. His son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), actually even accuses Frank of murdering her! The other members of the diving team anoint Frank a hero for even "attempting" to save Judes. One down for the serial killer.

The next victim? Luko (Cramer Cain). When the storm strikes, Luko is knocked into the water by a falling boulder. When Josh finds a very much still alive Luko, Frank announces that he will take care of the situation. Naturally, Frank tells the surviving members of the diving team that Luko has "broken every bone in his body" and he must perform a mercy killing. Indeed, Luko looked pretty rough, but is drowning him really the answer?

It is for a serial killer! Frank takes his forearm and buries Luko's head into the water. I'm not an orthopedic surgeon, but for a guy who has broken "every bone in his body," that left arm looked pretty damn strong as it punched at Frank's face in an effort to get him to stop. Frank claims his second victim of the day.

Later, George (Dan Wyllie) develops decompression sickness after ascending too quickly to the surface. Does he ask Frank for help? Actually, the opposite. Frank questions George -- supposedly his best friend -- about his behavior, suspecting that George may have the bends. George certainly doesn't want Frank to know about his illness, because he knows that Frank will use it as an excuse to make George his next victim. Accepting his fate, George drowns himself as opposed to being another notch on Frank's bedpost.

Now there's the case of Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd). The filmmakers paint Carl as Sanctum's villain -- the man who loses his senses and inexplicably attacks Frank while Frank is trying to "save" the team. In reality, Carl is the movie's hero. The man has seen Frank murder team member after team member, but the last straw is the death of Carl's girlfriend Victoria; she perished after Josh, who is slowly learning the intricacies of murder from his father (more on that in a moment), shines a flashlight into Victoria's eyes, causing her to fall to her death. Carl, whom the audience is now rooting against but should be rooting for, tries to finally put an end to Frank's homicidal streak by stealing his last remaining air canister.

Frank reacts by attempting to kill Carl the same way he killed Luko: with a forearm to the neck pushing him underwater. (Sure, some might call this self defense.) Not this time, Frank: Carl prevails, causing Frank to land on a stalagmite. Carl tries to flee, but alas, drowns in his escape attempt. Frank claims one last victim.

Now, like any good serial-killer movie, here's where the sequel is set up. Frank, mortally wounded, summons his son over. Frank explains that Josh must now drown him. And thus the circle is complete: The son, who already showed some signs, now becomes the new killer. And Josh does drown his own father with the exact same technique -- forearm to the neck -- that Frank periodically used to dispatch his own helpless victims. Josh is the only survivor, so only he knows of his father's wicked habit of drowning the people who trusted him the most. And now a new McGuire takes over Frank's diabolical reins.

So don't be surprised in the first scene in of Sanctum II: The Rising when Josh, laying in his bathtub with a girlfriend, looks over at her and slowly moves that murderous forearm straight for her neck...

Follow Mike Ryan on Twitter

Follow Movieline on Twitter


  • Jason says:

    You know what Mike? I'm with you on this completely and I think you'll be vindicated when the sequel comes out. I couldn't even watch the whole thing to be honest. There is definitely something very nefarious, cold and completely compassionless about the deaths and straight up murders in this film.
    I thought it was terrible and wouldn't recommend it to anyone, well except maybe to the neighborhood sociopath.

  • Sam says:

    1: this is really stupid dude
    2: frank tried to save Judes by buddy breathing, a riskg technique that could've killed both of them but she started being a greedy bitch
    3: carl shone the light in Victoria's face, not josh. Look at it again
    4: Victoria's hair got caught in the rope she was using to abseil and she decided to cut herself out, making her fall to her death as her hair was the only thing keeping her there
    5: frank does not attempt to kill Carl because he took the last air canister, he attamepted to kill him because Carl was putting his and his son's life in danger when he attacked them and whats more, after frank had been all but killed, carl still wanted more, but josh threatened carl, thus scaring him off

    I'm sorry but this was really so stupid. Did you watch the movie yourself? I feel like you didn't