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Sanctum
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Self-important rich boy Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) is financing a treacherous caving and diving expedition, in one of the world’s greatest caving systems in Papua New Guinea. He takes his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) to join in the fun.
But the adventure isn’t going to so well. One of the team has just died after losing her oxygen supply during a dive and the team are arguing among themselves over whether they handled the crisis correctly. The no-nonsense dive master Frank (Richard Roxburgh) insists that they had to let her die, because if they’d tried to share their supplies with her, they’d have lost others in the party too – but his son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) believes they should’ve have done more to help her.
The team includes the typical rag-tag group of experts in diving, caving and technology – each with their own hang-ups and personal issues.
Before Carl and Victoria are able to get their feet under the desk, a ferocious storm comes in and floods the caves, blocking their exit route back to the surface.
The only way up is down, as the team find themselves with no other option than to dive deeper into the caves and just hope there’s another way out.
The further they go into the unknown, the more dangerous is the journey and the more scarce are their supplies.
This ratchets up the tension between the group until, one-by-one, nature starts to take its toll, as members of the group are defeated by the caves, the water or their own failure to rise to the challenge.
As the headcount rises, the surviving members of the team start turning on each other – gone is the disciplined follow-Frank attitude divers are taught to adhere to – it’s every man, or woman, for themselves.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is billed as a James Cameron film, which is a little disingenuous, given that other than being the executive producer who provided the 3D technology, he had little creative input to the project. It’s a shame when film-makers feel the need to borrow big names to promote their work, such as Eli Roth with last year’s The Last Exorcism or Quentin Tarantino with Roth’s own Hostel. It’s misleading to audiences and unfair on the film-makers.
Technically, this certainly feels like I could be a Cameron film, with no holds barred when it comes to the magnitude of the caving system, the enthralling underwater camerawork and action set pieces.
But Cameron usually manages to avoid the temptation to put the toys before all else. In Sanctum, his disciples get so caught up in the remarkable 3D experience that apart from a nod to some father-son bonding and the predictable lust-for-life selfishness of some cast members, any semblance of a real story or true drama are somewhat left behind in the first cave. The film descends into a typical, corny disaster movie with the finite team dying off one by one, in the following order: least important to the plot, least interesting, least sympathetic.
And although you don’t know in advance exactly how each character is going to go, given that it’s all about caves, water and oxygen, there aren’t too many opportunities to mix it up – although it does get exciting at times and I certainly can’t remember the last time I held my breath so much in the cinema.
Sanctum is much more of a spectacle than it is a satisfying piece of story-telling, very much one of those films that, if you like that sort of thing, is worth seeing in 3D on the big screen, as it won’t offer transatlantic flight passengers much on the back of a jumbo jet seat.

Opens nationwide 4th February 2011

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