Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A passable action flick that feels derivative of other recent films, including 127 Hours and The Descent, this Australian film boasts some decent thrills and acting talent.
Executive produced by James Cameron, one wonders if he saw the film before it premiered. Cameron could certainly have given neophyte director Alister Grierson some tips, and maybe got him to rework some of the mind-numbing dialogue and toss out some clichés.
Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific’s Esa’ala caves for months. But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank’s team—including his 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd)—is forced to radically alter plans.
The skeleton of the film rests on the relationship between Coleridge-spouting Frank and his son Josh. Apparently Frank has been too busy exploring the world and could never adjust to diaper changing and other homebound tasks, and Josh, who apparently has to spend a month out of every year following dad on his expeditions, is predictably estranged.
Naturally, over the course of the film, the two shed their differences, as though the whole escape was a joint therapy session. At least Wakefield and Roxburgh are one of the film’s strengths, particularly Roxburgh, who does a great job as a team leader forced to make difficult choices, while trying to adjust to the constantly shifting challenges.
The normally competent Gruffurd, more well-known for portraying Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies, plays an American financier, and like most businessmen in Cameron films, turns out to be the biggest jerk. Unfortunately his performance here is solidly terrible, which is surprising considering his extensive resume.
Australian actors Dan Wylie and Alice Parkinson form part of the team, and while both are one-dimensional, are at least convincing.
There are some decent action set pieces, including one where a team member tries to stop a boulder from covering one of their passages, and Grierson does make full use of the natural challenges facing the group, including the lack of light and the claustrophobic environment in the underground cave system.
It helps to overcome some of the trite dialogue. Almost everything is spelled out and shouted, which makes the tinny-sounding lines even worse. The screenwriters seem to think inserting an argument or a quarrel to build in tension is sufficient.
The best moments in Sanctum are when it quietens down and the stunning nature shots. The visuals are often stunning, and you wish the same care had been taken with the script.
Beyond Wakefield and Roxborough’s performance, as well as the stunning nature shots, there’s very little originality in this film. Sanctum isn’t very deep, but its sheer beauty and awe of the natural environs at least makes it a bearable experience.