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A movie directed by Alister Grierson

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"Spelunking" Can Be Fun and Fatal...

  • Feb 5, 2011
Being promoted as “executively-produced” by James Cameron, the director of “Avatar”, the film “SANCTUM” directed by Alister Grierson generated some buzz in the movie community, and I was almost certain that it would once again display the advancements in 3D technology. I wasn’t really expecting much when I went to see this film; it was inspired by true events when one of the writers of its script Andrew Wright experienced an event that almost cost them their lives while they were on a diving expedition exploring some underwater caves. The film was shot at the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia and despite Cameron not being at the helm as director, the film employs 3D photography that he had developed with his previous box-office hit.

Looking for the most isolated and unexplored spots in the world, an expert explorer named Frank (Richard Roxburgh) and his crew of spelunkers have gone down to Papua, New Guinea looking to give some thrills to millionaire playboy/fellow spelunker Carl (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four) and to help him make a name for himself in National Geographic by exploring the last unmolested cave in the planet. Frank faces some difficulty with his son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who shares his passion for adventure but believes that he may be too cold in his approach as they prepare to go on yet another unseen place by most of civilization. When a typhoon develops into a hurricane above ground, the rising waters from a river threatens to flood the underground caves as Frank is forced to take some questionable steps to insure the survival of his son and most of his team. They fight the disaster, the emotions and the ineptitude of some team members as a father and his son finally learn to respect and to finally bond with each other….

                            Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson and Ioan Gruffudd in "Sanctum."

                            Rhys Wakefield in "Sanctum."

                           A scene from "Sanctum."

Yeah, even I was taken by the marketing ploys of “Sanctum” as it rides on the fumes of the recent success of “Avatar” in 2009. I thought Cameron would have more of a role in the film’s production, and while the 3D engine developed by the famed filmmaker was indeed utilized in the film, he had nothing to do with the movie’s story and production. “Avatar” was nothing special when it came to storytelling, but it was a cinematic experience that needed to be seen because of its advancements in technology. Well, “Sanctum” is a formula film, and while it wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t anything special either.

Screenwriters Andrew Wright and John Garvin endured a real-life almost fatal accident while they were spelunking themselves in underwater caves. As such the hazards of such a situation are brought into exposition. “Sanctum” is a race against time as the angry waters threaten to flood and drown what little chances they have under the caves. The threats of hypothermia, equipment failures, underwater terrors, potential loss of oxygen and the dark dank environments are all developed into the situation as our team goes through the step-by-step life or death situation. It does succeed in the bringing forth the perils of an intense situation. The set designs were nice and the film managed to generate some feelings of claustrophobia; the film does have the right emotions at heart and the visuals are impressive. The 3D engine is indeed a part of the film’s experience, as the filmmakers knew how to utilize its environment.

                           Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield in "Sanctum."

Rhys Wakefield as Josh McGuire and Richard Roxburgh as Frank in "Sanctum."  Richard Roxburgh in "Sanctum."

                              A scene from "Sanctum."

                              Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson in "Sanctum."

I guess the issues with “Sanctum” comes in the way it was structured. It opens with an almost subtle hint as it begins with a scene that was near the end and in doing so it somehow hampered its chances at strong legitimate suspense. I guess this was intended to bring forth the film’s themes. Yes, the film relies on a simple plot with almost minimal development of its characters. It goes forth with the father-son relationship of Frank and Josh, all wrapped around some potential dangers that need to be overcome by sheer determination, level-headedness and courage. An intense situation serves to bring Frank and Josh together, they learn to know what makes the other tick and what made them almost strangers in the past. They appear closer though distant, they are different and yet they are the same; it was almost as if the fates had conspired to give them time to care for each other. It works in some ways, but the supporting characters were just so underdeveloped that you knew from the start that they were just fodder, as they drop one-by-one, I couldn’t really care much less feel bad once they were dropped from the equation; as a result the effectiveness of its drama was barely achieved.

For a film with such stereotypical devices and with intricacies so far away, a film needs to have strong supporting characters so one can feel invested in the scenes. The characters seem to fumble around, as they display irritation, panic and sometimes despair and while they did feel real, it feels repetitive and sometimes even forced. The supporting cast was alright, but they weren’t exactly the strongest of performers and they feel as if they were merely there to convince the viewer that cave exploring is serious business. I did enjoy Richard Roxburgh’s performance, I thought he was good as the somewhat cold, and single-minded person that I thought that someone with the moniker “most respected explorer” would be. The film has some sequences of blood and disturbing imagery; they serve to bring forth some thrills and scares, though the set ups were uneven.

There are no demons as in "The Cave" or subterranean creatures as in “The Descent” or aliens as in “The Abyss” in this film. The terror of being stuck in the middle of nowhere has all been played before, and this film stomps in very familiar ground. Nothing is more terrifying as something so simple and yet it demands the strongest feeling of hope to avoid going into blind despair; it is quite horrific to find that each turn can lead to safety and yet it proves beyond anyone’s reach. “Sanctum” is a film that wants to feel real and a no-nonsense affair, I liked this about the film. But unfortunately, the film had botched areas that nearly killed all its chances at real human drama. It also affords little thrills and surprises; "Sanctum' feels like your basic survival movie. I guess there are times where simplicity can be brilliant but there are also times were simplicity can prove too simple that it could kill a cinematic experience. While I didn’t hate the film, I cannot give it a recommended rating.

RENTAL [3- Out of 5 Stars]

A scene from "Sanctum." Poster art for "Sanctum."

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February 05, 2011
At least it wasn't horrible, I will still be waiting for the rental. Excellent review WP.
February 05, 2011
thanks, Alex, this wasn't horrid but pales in comparison to the rental I saw--http://lunch.com/t/67h3
February 05, 2011
Great review. I was pretty hard on this film. The drama of the expedition felt manufactured, not in the spirit of adventure, but merely as a backdrop for a simple-minded and predictable father/son story. I also had a problem with the number of ugly death scenes; with the exception of Frank and Josh, the characters were like disposable victims in a teen slasher film. So naturally, I paid extra to see it in 3D.
February 05, 2011
I think we are in agreement on this one. My score ended up with 2.80, so I gave it a very weak 3/5 stars. I liked the way it played on the hazards of the environment but thoguht the dialogue was flat and weak.
More Sanctum reviews
review by . July 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*1/2 out of ****     "Sanctum" is a full-time underwater cave adventure that bears the spirit of a good thriller, but none of the quality. Executive Produced and "presented" by "King of the World" James Cameron, the movie is the kind that I'd never thought I'd see turn up. It's a movie that was essentially destined to be good, but then the wrong filmmaker got a hold of it, and all went to bloody hell. And that's too bad, because I desperately wanted to enjoy it.    And …
review by . March 20, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It's all about survival
Caves are awesome! It has a life of its own, hidden below and underneath everyone's scrutiny. To go into caves, exploring what's in them, is an adventure of a lifetime. Virgin caves are what explorers go after. I'd have to contend myself with the tourists' fare. Still, there are less dangers involved and one gets to return without losing one's life and bearings!         Sanctum was shot in Gold Coast and not Papua New Guinea. The story revolves around …
review by . July 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Beautiful B Movie...nothing more
“Sanctum” is a film about a group of people who aren’t very comfortable in the real world, with its messy relationships and mortgage payments, mixed motivations and emotional complexity and such. They prefer to spend their time exploring subterranean landscapes, alternately climbing and diving their way through lost parts of the world. They seem some stunningly amazing and beautiful sights along the way, and also face life and death situations almost every day.      …
review by . February 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Sanctum exemplifies what happens when innovation becomes more important than a screenplay. The story is contrived, calculating, and unpleasant, but never fear – James Cameron is the executive producer, and he will see to it that we gawk helplessly at the difficult camerawork, the authentically claustrophobic sets, and the 3D effects. Perhaps it was his intention for director Alister Grierson to experience his own private version of The Abyss, …
review by . March 11, 2011
Caving seems like a cool thing in theory, but in practice I'm sure it's not all that cool (except for those special few that do it professionally).  The element of surprise and the vast unknown is terrifying enough above ground and I'm not sure I would want to put myself out there somewhere in the deep blue sea, especially if it has never been "explored" before.       Sanctum is an adventure thriller that will keep you entertained (so long as you …
Quick Tip by . February 07, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Solid film. Probably not the greatest film ever made but is enjoyed it. It reminded me of Into Thin Air, but for caves.
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About this movie


Sanctum is a 2011 3D adventure drama film directed by Alister Grierson and executive produced by James Cameron.


During an underwater cave exploration in Papua New Guinea, five people are trapped when a cyclone starts flooding the cave. With the water going up and the air running out, their only hope of survival is to travel through the unexplored underwater caves following the course of the river that leads into the ocean.

The film begins with the explorers 17-year-old Josh (Rhys Wakefield), expedition bank-roller Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) and his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), reaching the cave by helicopter at the Esa'ala Cave site.

Upon reaching the cave it is made known that Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), Josh's father and a master diver, has already set up a forward base camp deep inside the cave. The team has been exploring the cave system for months, and have set up an excellent communication network that allows communication with the camp from above. While Victoria and Josh rappel down the cave, Carl chooses to dive and parachute into it, reaching the base camp before Josh and Victoria.

While the guests get comfortable, Frank and diver Judes (Allison Cratchley) decide to explore an unexplored section of the cave known as Devil's Restriction. Squeezing through a narrow passage they reach a giant cavern with huge ...

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Director: Alister Grierson
Release Date: 4 February 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: John Garvin, Andrew Wight
Runtime: 109 min
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