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Sanctum (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Sanctum in the USA - or Buy Sanctum in the UK

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There will certainly be no happy hibernating in the lacklustre cave-dwelling caper Sanctum, a dank and disjointed waterlogged action-adventure that teeters on the ridiculous. The deception about this 3-D claustrophobic clunker is intentional in that it proudly boasts one of sci-fi’s quintessential filmmakers in the Oscar-winning James Cameron whose decorated stamp is proudly attached to this rudimentary rock solid romp.

Sure, as an executive producer and technical contributor to the wet wasteland that is Sanctum Cameron’s name association is legitimately tossed about as if to give director Alister Grierson’s feeble rocky horror show its noteworthy stripes of recognition. That is, however, the major problem in that Cameron did not provide the direction for this notoriously slight and spotty cave-exploring catastrophe…Grierson did the honours. In essence, Sanctum is another watered-down pseudo-slick saga that artificially leans on its stylish computer graphics imagery while skimping out on other aspects of a sound, exploratory high-octane thriller.

The murky Sanctum feels somewhat stagnant and has a low grade Discovery Channel cable vibe to it that diminishes the vibrant scope for a so-called boisterous big screen adventure carrying the reputation of Cameron’s cinematic participation. Grierson and screenwriter Andrew Wight could have gone in another creative direction and made the uneven Sanctum more plausible as a campy and friendly family feature as it showcases the visual vitality of its impish vision.

Instead, there are arbitrary doses of slasher-like moments and the obvious emphasis of the cave setting as a “dark and dangerous” den for doomed explorers. Really…say it ain’t so, Sherlock? Plus, the dopey-sounding dialogue, clichéd cardboard characterisations, wooden acting and indistinguishable cave-diving sequences all make for a conglomeration of mediocre mayhem. The exotic locales are understandably realised aesthetically but that is not enough to consider the soggy Sanctum a riveting revelation.

The premise to Sanctum seems arousing enough in its depiction of cave dwellers exploring the ominous depths of Earth’s underground corridors. Mixing the shadowy creepiness of cave exploration with added elements of flooding and other natural disasters had its potential in the drama dire sweepstakes. But the ultimate sentiment of folks mechanically succumbing to the inevitable deadly fate at hand renders this sporadic spectacle a run-of-the-mill thrill-seeking piece locked on auto pilot. The self-destruction of the periled participants is never anything distinctively involving beyond the measure in which they conveniently perish courtesy of testy Mother Nature.

The surrounding is New Guinea’s vastly contained cave system where wealthy adventurer Carl (Ioan Gruffud) is funding this rollicking cave expedition along with his main squeeze (Alice Parkinson) and a few crew members. No-nonsense efficient Australian leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is on board to oversee the cave-carousing journey along with his indifferent son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who proves to be instrumental in what lies ahead for the travelling party.

As the gang wade through the unforgiving cave chambers, freakish storms literally trap the visitors as treacherous obstacles of water challenge the crew to become resilient in their survival skills amongst the unfriendly underwater currents and other nasty elements.

In terms of the cave interior graphics, the sensational tug and pull is eerily pronounced thanks to some 3-D urgency but the other tension-filling segments are underwhelmed with formulaic frivolity. For time to time the divers’ route into an abyss of massive water is interesting but it never quite captures the suspense and intrigue situated with the pressing edge-of-your-seat expectation. The underwater world being created is wondrous on some levels but flat and engagingly stiff in other realms.

Although ambitiously daring to its core on occasion, the watery wonderment of Sanctum does not cave in that much when entertaining its cheesy-minded intensity and surrealistic purpose.

Sanctum (2011) Universal Pictures
1 hr. 49 mins.
Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Ioan Gruffudd
Directed by: Alister Grierson
MPAA Rating: R

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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