Sanctum is the latest adventure epic from producer James Cameron. Set and filmed in Australia and featuring a largely local cast, it tells the story of experienced cave-diver Frank (Richard Roxburgh) and his team – including estranged teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and cocky American boss Carl (Ioan Gruffud) – after becoming trapped in the world’s most inaccessible cave system, in Papua New Guinea, during a freak cyclone.
After their exit becomes blocked due to the torrential water pouring in from above, the group of six (some experienced divers, some not) decide to progress deeper into the cave before their base fills with water and they are drowned. They know that the cave eventually leads to the sea, but this is as yet unexplored territory, and there is no way of knowing how clear the way will be and whether they will make it with their limited supplies.
I think that one of the first points that should be made about Sanctum is that it is based on actual events and is co-written by underwater explorer Andrew Wight, who once found himself trapped in an underwater cave in a group of 17. Since watching this film at the cinema I have read a number of reviews which slate the narrative for being boring, predictable, and a rip-off of various other films – The Core, The Abyss, The Descent… – admittedly I happen to have not seen any of the films to which Sanctum is apparently similar, but having been co-written by a person who underwent this experience, I find this rather unfair. Whilst I would be very surprised if the plot was claimed to be an exact re-enactment of what really happened, to be based on a true story a film becomes restricted to the realms of possibility and believability, and cannot become completely outlandish. This may mean the filmmakers must compromise on the typical Hollywood style of glamour and gloss, but some films benefit far more from a certain amount of gritty realism, particularly if we are to believe that these or at least similar events really happened. There are, of course, predictable moments to the narrative – particularly a scene very early on in which Josh mocks his father’s obsession with torches and tries to remove a torch on a string around his neck. He is distracted, and the torch stays with him, and you just know that it will come in handy later on and silly Josh will become wise and learn the error of his ways and that torches are useful after all. But generally I felt that the narrative held its own, and the plot progressed satisfactorily. From the moment the group is trapped, the audience has no way of knowing how many and which of them – if any – will make it out of the cave alive, and I felt that the greatest strength of the film was the twists and clashes which befell various members of the group along the way. I shan’t give anything away, but I was very surprised by the outcome. I felt it worked for the better, but I had envisioned the film ending entirely differently.
Without a doubt, the best aspect of Sanctum is the quality of the 3D imagery. I have never been overwhelmed by 3D technology, but have often said that it is too often used for action or horror films in which the best 3D moments happen too quickly to really have time to take it in, and that I need to go and see some animations – like Toy Story 3D or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – where I should imagine the viewer is allowed to enjoy the 3D aspects in greater depth. But producing Sanctum in 3D allowed the audience to wonder at the depths and danger of the caves and water, and I really think it added something to the film – something which maybe even makes it better than all those aforementioned films to which it has been unfavourably compared.
I enjoyed Sanctum and would recommend it to most audiences (aged 15+, of course – though the film is not particularly scary, there are some violent and quite gruesome scenes). It is a great compromise when a couple or group cannot agree on a film, as it combines danger and adventure with drama and emotion, and I think would be enjoyable by all. If you’ve seen other films about caves or pot-holing etc, then I would recommend still giving this one a go.