Rhys Wakefield, Allison Cratchley, and Christopher Baker star in a film written by John Garvin and Andrew Wright and directed by Alister Grierson.
If you are older than nine and weren’t totally stoned at the time, you probably remember that Avatar was beautiful, but only slightly better than a Captain Planet cartoon. This film is even worse. James Cameron’s 3-D cinematic techniques, employed to tell a story of an often-brutal adventure, stand like a cognitive dissonance against the stupid clichés that pass for dialogue in Alister Grierson’s Sanctum. At one point the adventurer (Richard Roxburgh), a man driven to extremes of human achievement without apparently harboring one human feeling, tells his troupe to move on after a terrible death. His son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) gasps at him, “How did you get to be this way?” To which he replies, “I know I haven’t been the best kind of father for you.” Yeah, I don’t know either.
Cameron serves as executive producer on this film, but his stamp is all over the picture, for better and worse. It employs his lovely 3-D cameras, so the first 15 minutes of the film are genuinely engaging on an aesthetic level: Plants snap back at us as the camera moves through brush; the deep focus of a tremendous cave of birds is intimidating in its realness. But big egregious Cameronisms dominate this film, too. Case in point: It’s got a grotesque obsession with showing us people drowning and depicts a dive that takes place while a storm beats down from overhead. (Call this Son of the Abyss, if you want.) Like Avatar, the pseudo-mysticism, third-world victims, para-military philosophy, and hard-ass demands of survival—which Cameron pretends to satirize but clearly loves—control the plot throughout this film.
I’m not sure at all what the title Sanctum signifies, though I imagine Cameron thinks it means something inner, you know, like a cave. In truth, there’s a much better movie about the horrors of spelunking, replete with monsters, tons of blood, and an actual substantive theme. It’s called The Descent; it’s not 3-D, and it’s good.