- the cinematic musings of a self-certified geek


Sanctum 3-D - Dir. Alister Grierson, USA/AUS, 109mins, 2011

Black Swan

Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011

Having travelled to Pandora and the outer reaches of space to make the billion dollar blockbuster, Dances with Wolves 3-D, aka Avatar, King of the World, James Cameron (his official title) returns to messing about in water with executive producer duties on this subterranean thriller.


For whatever reason, a group of deep-sea cave divers and assorted adrenalin junkies are attempting to traverse the most treacherous cave system on the planet, all at the behest of Ioan Gruffudd’s Ambramovich esque money man. Predictably so, or else it would be like watching a rather dull IMAX movie, things begin to go awry when a large storm threatens to flood the caves, forcing our explorers to use the deepest recesses of the labyrinthine maze in order to escape.


Evoking aspects of the best disaster movies, in particular The Poseidon Adventure and the schlocky Stallone vehicle, Daylight, Sanctum is made up of all the requisite genre criteria; an ensemble of actors with varying degrees of ability, that at times you are unsure whether the echoes are from the cavernous locations or the space between their ears, are put through increasingly difficult scenarios, numbers constantly dwindling before the one you knew was going to survive all along, escapes to freedom. But boy is it guilty fun.


Shot using the Cameron endorsed 3-D technology, it does look like a big budget version of a David Attenborough narrated BBC documentary, in that it is stunning to look at. You really get a feel for the overhanging rocks and tight spaces and that does assist in increasing the peril.


Playing out like Neil Marshall’s superb The Descent, but without the monsters, or the hugely effective claustrophobia, you get the feeling that the desire to utilise the 3-D has been to the detriment of the tension. Even when the characters are in a life or death scenario the cinematography is never invasive or close enough for the audience to feel involved in the same way that Buried succeeded. It’s as if the filmmakers thought, “ok, they are stuck in a tight tunel, but look how beautiful that expanse of water is”.


That is perhaps a little harsh because there are genuinely thrilling moments to be had here, and Sanctum is never dull.  Bones cracking left, right, and centre with wince inducing results, and a set-piece that will have you clutching at your scalp in grimaced empathic pain.

You’ll pick your favourite characters and root for their survival no matter how clunky the dialogue is. Roxburgh plays it straight as the detached veteran who never knows where to draw the line when it comes to danger, and it’s his father-son relationship with the likeable Wakefield that provides the plots most successful narrative hook.  Less successful is the former Hornblower, Gruffudd, who fails on every level to convince as the villain of the piece.


Unashamed throwaway fun, Sanctum won’t win any awards, but it gets my vote in the overcrowded Friday night film category for being a genuinely gripping slice of clunky entertainment.