Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield
Directed by: Alister Grierson (“Kokoda”)
Written by: Andrew Wight (debut) and John Garvin (debut)
Produced by “Avatar” director James Cameron, whose underwater obsession can be seen in a lot of his work, “Sanctum” is based on a similar deep sea nightmare co-writer Andrew Wight experienced in 1988 while exploring caves in Western Australia.
In “Sanctum,” however, Cameron and Wight, who have worked together on underwater documentaries including “Aliens of the Deep” and “Ghosts of the Abyss,” and director Alister Grierson (“Kokoda”), allow the true-life adventure to get ridiculously melodramatic. If the Discovery Channel ever thought about changing their format, “Sanctum” might fill in nicely as a daytime soap opera.
Richard Roxburgh (“Van Helsing”) plays Frank, the leader of a group of spelunkers who finds himself and his team in the center of an unexplored cave in Papua New Guinea. Their adventure is cut short when a freak storm hits the small Oceanic country and traps them in the belly of the cave. With very little time on their side, the group is forced to maneuver their way through the cave system to find their way out. Think “The Descent” without the blood-thirsty monsters, an effective claustrophobic environment, or a real sense of urgency.
It is evident Wight has taken liberties to try and build some suspense in the narrative, but by turning all the characters into blathering drama queens that whine, argue, and complain during the entire film, “Sanctum” sinks fast. You would think a frightening event like getting trapped in a cave would create enough of a compelling crisis on its own, but Wight doesn’t let up on the ham-fisted dialogue. With much of the conflict centering on Frank and his sulky son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the overbearing family drama takes precedent over the actual survival story.
While Cameron and Wight have taken us to depths we’ve never seen before, “Sanctum” is far from the visual success of their non-fiction work (the non-existent 3-D effects don’t help much). Like falling out of an inner tube on a water park slide, “Sanctum” is a predictable and uncomfortable ride that isn’t much fun from top to bottom.