Movie Review: Sanctum (2011)

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Sanctum review
Richard Roxburgh in Sanctum
Photo: Universal Pictures

“This cave’s not going to beat me!”

“Carl likes to play by his own rules.”

And one more quote to put the final nail in the coffin, “What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?”

Yeesh, it’s like the middle ages of screenwriting, although I’m pretty sure Alice Parkinson’s character hadn’t read John Garvin and Andrew Wight’s Sanctum script when she asked that last question because the answer is painfully obvious… You can drown! Drown, drown, drown! And even if you fall down, break your face open and still live you better believe someone will be around to drown you! As one character says, “This cave will kill you in a heartbeat,” but what he didn’t add to that was, “and if it doesn’t I will!”

Sanctum is a terrible movie if there ever was one. Beyond the dreadful dialogue (and I have more before this review is done), the acting, direction, editing, score and just about everything else is bad about this movie. The fact it’s billed as a “3D experience from the creator of Titanic and Avatar that will take your breath away” not to mention the idea it’s “inspired by a true story” (that actually went down the exact opposite way this film turns out) should have all been hyperbole enough to tip me off to the boredom that was to follow.

The story centers on a group of cave divers exploring what the trailer defines as “the last unexplored territory in the world.” The cast of characters is more than enough to signal what’s going to happen as the leader of the expedition (Richard Roxburgh) is a tough-as-nails cave diver who seems to basically hate everyone, including his son (Rhys Wakefield). “Go easy on the kid,” his teammates tell him. His reply, “That’s exactly what I don’t need to do! [*grrowlll*]” Wonder how that father-son relationship will end up by the end of the movie?

Then there’s the man with the money (Ioan Gruffudd) who shows up with his new girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) along with a handful of additional characters added to the cast to beef up the death toll.

The group’s goal is to explore the cave and find where it exits into the ocean, but there’s trouble on the horizon. A storm threatens their progress, but the weather report says they still have time to do a little more explori– Uh oh! Wait! Plot development update! “The storm has turned into a cyclone!” Oh noes!

Water begins to pour into the cave. Our characters are up to their necks in freezing water when one of them adeptly informs us, “The cave is flooding!” Whaa- wait! No, really? Insert menacing growl and stare from Roxburgh, “We’re heading back down!” After all, the marketing already keyed us in to the fact the only way out is down.

For the next 90 minutes or so we watch as people drown and our fearless leader carries on as if he just couldn’t care, which affords other characters the opportunity to tell him how heartless he is. And don’t worry if you miss it the first time, it’s a recurring theme throughout the entire film as is David Hirschfelder’s mind-numbing score.


Hirschfelder’s work here is big, bombastic and amateur, feeding into the monotony rather than adding any tension. But I can hardly fault him, there isn’t much to work with here as scenes are repeated and even the underwater moments are absent of tension as any possible threat is foreshadowed well before it ever arrives. Even when you finally think you’re getting to the end of one miserable scene piled on the next director Alister Grierson decides to turn on the slow-motion, you know, for added emphasis.

The acting from all parties is hammy and pathetic. Roxburgh snarls his way through the entire film until the script calls for him to show a little compassion. Wakefield whines his way through the cave and Parkinson does her very best in one scene to mimic the intensity found in the opening moments of Cliffhanger, but your concern for her was lost several minutes prior.

Then there’s Ioan Gruffudd whose career seemed to be on the right track about seven years ago as he was the best thing about the disappointing King Arthur and then he landed the role of Reed Richards in Fox’s Fantastic Four. His career hasn’t recovered since. Here he even channels his inner Captain Kirk, circa 1966, and doles out a double-fisted “Heeyah!” sucker punch late in the game to add to the embarrassment.

Producer James Cameron has been critical of some of the 3D films to come out, afterAvatar was said to have changed the game, but he should be ashamed of the product he’s shilling here. The 3D is almost non-existent and adds nothing to the picture. I’d argue the whole marketing scheme behind this film is just as egregious as the post-converted 2D-to-3D films Cameron has chastised.

What makes it even worse is the fact it’s evident almost immediately that Sanctum isn’t going to be a good film. It’s nearly two hours of tedium and there are moments where you think it may never end. No matter how determined I was and no matter what rules I played by, I have to admit, this is a film that beat me.

GRADE: F

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