Marketed with the words “from executive producer James Cameron”, released in 3D and also inspired by a true story, I have to admit that the cynic in me wasn’t expecting much from Sanctum when I went to see it. That changed pretty quickly as I started to enjoy a survival drama almost as good as 127 Hours though it’s also a more traditionally cinematic one, and so easier to make into something satisfying.
The set-up isn’t complex. A bunch of people (including a father and son who don’t see eye to eye) are down in a deep, deep cave to explore the system when a storm breaks a lot sooner than expected. The camp above ground is quickly washed out as water begins to pour in to the cave, so strong that it also moves a rock and blocks the way out. The people stuck in the cave have to move through the unknown underwater channels to find another exit, all the while trying to conserve their oxygen, light and body heat.
Sanctum is a great experience. The drama that keeps being piled on the situation is fairly believable and nobody acts in a way that jolts you out of the film (though Ioan Gruffudd’s character comes close in the second half). The cinematography is wonderful, alternating between emphasising the scale of the natural environment and then the claustrophobic-inducing tight squeezes that our band of wannabe-survivors have to go through.
Andrew Wright and John Garvin wrote the screenplay and do a very good job of informing the audience about the many potential dangers arising from the worsening situation while sketching out some characters that we can get to care about before finding out their fate. Okay, so the actual dialogue is a bit clichéd and cheesy in places but it does what it needs to do for a “disaster movie”, which is what this certainly feels like.
The downfall of the film is actually in the obvious father-son relationship that stays as the focus of our attention. Richard Roxburgh is very good as the father, Frank, who is more comfortable deep underground than he ever has been in his civilian guise but Rhys Wakefield is stuck with a character, Josh, who stays quite petulant and stubborn when most people could start to see things from another point of view. Gruffudd is okay as Carl, the money behind the exploration, and Alice Parkinson makes a good impression as his girlfriend, Victoria. Dan Wyllie is also good and that really covers the main group as nobody else gets too much time to make an impression before the torrential downpour begins.
Director Alister Grierson does nothing majorly wrong from his position in the big chair. The movie is paced pretty perfectly, there are a couple of moments to make the squeamish wince (as, I feel, there often should be in this type of film), there is never any problem in keeping up with the character’s geography in relation to each other and everything looks superb. It’s clear to see what attracted Cameron to put his name to this, the watery theme and the chance to show some more 3D onscreen. Who knows, perhaps he will even help Grierson to create a 12-hour special extended edition DVD.
DIRECTOR: ALISTER GRIERSON
STARS: RICHARD ROXBURGH, RHYS WAKEFIELD, IOAN GRUFFUDD, ALICE PARKINSON
RUNTIME: 108 MINS APPROX