November 27, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 40°F


Action arrives too late to spark thrills

The looming question of “What can go wrong while diving in caves?” echoes throughout the spooky underground adventure of the 3-D saga “Sanctum.” Whether it’s getting lost in uncharted territory or growing paranoid after countless wrong turns, the largely unknown cast of “Sanctum” begs the question: Is the expedition worth the pain?

“Sanctum” takes place in a vast network of subterranean caves in Papua New Guinea. Richard Roxburgh plays Frank, a character akin to a modern day Indiana Jones. However, Frank isn’t afraid of snakes like Indie was. In fact, hardly anything makes him skittish. Frank revels in the unknown and sets out with a group of highly trained climbers, divers and waterproof robots to finish mapping the remainder of the largest cave system in the world.

The first 20 minutes of the film are terrible, primarily because director Alister Grierson projects uninspired scenes with completely wooden acting on the big screen. These poor choices make what could’ve been grade-A entertainment entirely corny. Lines like “What can go wrong diving in caves?” bluntly break the fourth wall and make the audience seem unintelligent. These pointless, ironic lines are unnecessary because everyone who saw the film’s trailer knows gruesome events are about to occur.

Anyone who isn’t an avid adventurer with the backing of an egotistical billionaire will not be able to identify with the cast of “Sanctum.” Mustering sympathy toward these headstrong characters proves difficult because of their stupidity. In one scene, the cast has ample opportunity to safely exit the vast cave system before a monstrous storm breaks out, yet they waste it. They keep exploring, hoping their friends above ground will give them warning of the danger.

These problems are sporadically patched up during the last hour of the film. The cheese factor is eliminated, and the action component of this “action-thriller” begins when powerful bursts of water transform the cave into a mountainous geyser, fearlessly tossing around anyone in its way.

Evoking feelings of claustrophobia and strong fear of the unknown, Jules O’Loughlin ensnares the audience with his clever cinematography. He pushes emotional buttons by mixing intimate close-up shots of Frank with wide-angle ones that flood the screen with endless dark blue water. Coupled with a mysterious musical score by David Hirschfelder and stirring sound effects, the technical aspects of
“Sanctum” are award-worthy.

James Cameron serves as the film’s executive producer, but seemingly lets Grierson — for better or worse — make his movie. While some shots are reminiscent of the 3-D epic “Avatar,” they don’t seem stale or inappropriate. The 3-D effects add tension to an already frightening experience while the film’s color palette relies on a mixture of blacks, blues and hues of purple to realistically portray a prehistoric underground world. Though technology was largely responsible for creating “Avatar,” real caves — not green screen imagery — are featured in “Sanctum.”

Grierson delivers the death and destruction expected in “Sanctum,” but nothing more. Drenching filmgoers with sublime 3-D imagery and an immersing soundscape, this film is merely a ploy to take viewers’ money. “Sanctum” is one film that dives off the deep end and sinks to the bottom.

“Sanctum” was written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight and directed by Alister Grierson.

2.5 out of 4 stars