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Cameron's Sanctum Sinks and Stinks

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2011 4 Feb
Cameron's <i>Sanctum</i> Sinks and Stinks

DVD Release Date: June 7, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: February 4, 2011
Rating: R (for language, some violence and disturbing images)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 109 min.
Director: Alister Grierson
Actors: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffud, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Andrew Hansen

In case you hadn't noticed, Hollywood has trouble coming up with original ideas. If movie studios aren't green-lighting another sequel or comic-book adaptation, they're looking to real-life stories to turn into films. That's why the words "based on a true story" or the more suspect "inspired by true events" are appearing more and more in the opening moments of feature films.

Right now, audiences can take in fact-based stories like The King's Speech127 Hours and The Fighter, or those inspired by or based on a true story, like The Way Back (although its veracity has been disputed) and The Rite—all currently in theaters.

It seems that those who want imaginative tales that take them to places they've never been before have fewer and fewer options. One filmmaker associated with such films is James Cameron. His Titanic may have been based on a historic tragedy, but nearly everything else he's done—including blockbusters like Avatar, Aliens and True Lies—has been more adventurous and imaginative.

So the combination of Cameron and the based-on-a-true-story Sanctum has potent commercial and creative potential, but Cameron fans excited to see his name associated with this new film shouldn't be fooled. Although he produced the film, he didn't direct it. That chore—and "chore" is the best word to describe the experience of watching Sanctum, whatever the experience of actually making the film may have been—was left to Alister Grierson, who has only one previous feature under his belt, the Australian film Kokoda.

The story focuses on a team of underwater cave divers led by financier Carl Hurley (Amazing Grace's Ioan Gruffud) and diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), who explore the Esa'ala cave. The team's goal: To determine the path of water flow through the subterranean labyrinth.

Frank's distant son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and Frank's girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) are among the team members who descend into Esa'ala and find themselves trapped after a flash flood seals them within the cave. Their only chance of survival is to follow the path of water in the cave, in hopes that they will emerge at the same place the water exits Esa'ala.

At first the team is unified in its efforts, but as one team member after another succumbs to the elements and other risks associated with the extreme conditions of the cave, the survivors grow more desperate. While some panic, the father and son hash out their differences so they can focus on the immediate task of finding a route through the cave.

Grierson orchestrates a few competent action sequences in Sanctum, but it's a film that suffers badly from the failure to give us any characters with more than one dimension. The poor script from first-time screenwriter John Garvin and Andrew Wight, whose only other writing credit is Shark Attack: A Survival Guide, is a prime culprit here, with early dialogue so hokey and painful it makes Avatar's awful script seem thoughtful by comparison.

The best thing about Sanctum is its visuals, which effectively use 3D technology to draw viewers into the threats and wonders of Esa'ala. But with the good comes plenty of bad, including an unexpected foray into the hot-button moral issue of "mercy killing."

If that's not your idea of a fun time at the movies, then it's reason enough to skip Sanctum, which gives potential customers plenty of other reasons to choose better viewing options.


  • Language/Profanity: Numerous misuses of the Lord's name; lots of foul language, including several uses of the "f" word, "s-it," "d-mn"; "ba-tard."
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: A woman says she'll be fine after a hot bath and a brandy.
  • Sex/Nudity: A young man "moons" others; reference to getting "the clap"; a man presses against a woman to keep her warm and prevent her from going into hypothermia.
  • Violence/Crime: Scenes of drowning; a man falls to his death; two "mercy killings" of wounded men; an injured woman falls to her death; other dead and wounded bodies are shown; two men fight.
  • Religion/Morals: A character says there's no God down in the cave, and that we're all just dust, passing through; a man says that exploring the cave is "like my church."

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