Sanctum, a film made in 2011 directed by Alister Grierson and starring Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffud, Ryhs Wakefield, and others, is a movie about a group of cave divers making an attempt to explore parts of a cave system that have not yet been mapped. But, because of where the cave system is located, a big storm hits the divers forcing them to traverse the caves to escape to freedom. Along the way nature begins to take its course and it becomes a game of survival for our crusade of cave divers.
Going into this movie, I didn’t know what to expect. The IMDb rating was a low 5.9/10 with a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Needless to say things were not looking good. Usually I like to be surprised by these movies that have bad ratings. I can sometimes find a little nugget that makes me ask why the movie got a rating so poor. Sanctum is just like any other survival, cave-diving, claustrophobic movie out there. Movies like The Descent and The Cave have similar plots to Sanctum but with a more supernatural twist (although Sanctum sure has stuff that seems supernatural). Sanctum deals solely with the cave and its divers, rather than turning toward weird creatures that have lived in the systems for decades…or whatever the case may be for The Cave (one I have yet to see). For the most part, the film keeps itself focused on the conflict at hand. Unfortunately, just because the movie is more focused on its story, the characters suffer and events that occur do not help this film, in the slightest.
The film opens with us being introduced to ALL (yes all) of the characters we will (or will not) spend the next hour and 45 minutes with. Which, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be so bad, if there were just a handful, maybe 3 or 4, like The Descent. Instead we have upwards of 7+ characters given to us to develop, present internal conflict, explain why they are where they are, what they do, things like that, all in the first 5 minutes. Because after the first 5 minutes we have our first external struggle (right after we learn that main character is son of other main character and they have relationship issues, which this cave will show them, isn’t a way to live). You see, one of the characters we have spent so much time knowing dies. Whilst exploring some of the cave secondary character has her oxygen hose breaks and main character dad buddy-breaths (aka, shares his oxygen mask) with her. And instead of actually moving the air bubble above them (which they had pointed out) the girl dies because buddy-breathing is dangerous and we need something before real conflict.
This is where my biggest problem with this movie comes in, the characters, especially main character dad. He is built up to be this amazing cave diver for almost the entirety of the first two acts. The problem comes in making decisions for the team, he gets many of them killed. Hence the scene I mentioned earlier. If a character is so good at what he does, then show me don’t just tell me. Everyone in this movie is stupid, and poorly written for the sake of conflict. One of the character’s refuses to put on a thermal shirt to keep her from getting hypothermia in the cold water because it comes from the character who died in the beginning. Even after being told by main character dad to do so (who I would like to remind just as much as the movie reminds us, is experienced and knows more than she does) character girl refuses. And lo and behold, she gets hypothermia later on…what, did you think that was a spoiler?
The characters in Sanctum are nowhere near developed enough, with the exception for the father and son (I’ll get to them in a second). And when a character dies, the movie spends the next five minutes mourning over said character. That also includes the girl from the beginning too. The movie tries to make me care, to which I don’t have any reason to, because there I’m not given a reason to. There are too many characters without the proper amount of screen time for me to give a crap about what happens to them.
Normally I don’t see foreshadowing as a big issue in movies but it seems to be something here. The movie has no subtly to it, everything is shown to you in how each character will die in very obvious ways that you would have to be blind and deaf to not see it coming. But even the message of the film is so in your face that it’s hard for me to like this film even if it was a dumb, fun movie. This movie is very hammy and likes to spoon feed the audience. This is not good filmmaking.
I will admit though, this is better than The Descent in my mind. I got more enjoyment out of this one despite its major flaws that Descent does not have. And that has to do with its simplicity…which is to get out while the water is rising. I can honestly say this is the first movie that actually made me feel claustrophobic, which normally doesn’t happen. And I watched this on a small 32” TV, so I give major props. For the most part the movie has pretty good cinematography and likes to use medium and close shots, whereas The Descent was basically all close-up and personal all the time. I would also like to point out that although the characters aren’t given any development, the father and son would be the exception to that. I felt they were given enough time to grow in their relationship with one another. Maybe it’s because amongst a lot of bad, this was something that was not-so-bad, which made it good in my mind for the movie. The visuals do work for me, there is one character who hits his face on a rock and we see later the damage and it looks pretty real.
Unfortunately, as I had stated earlier, this movie is hammy. Both with its characters and its script. At one point a character runs off, only to return and cause unneeded and unfocused conflict. If you’re someone who can turn your brain off when watching a dumb, fun movie, then you will probably enjoy this one. Normal audiences won’t have much of a problem with it since the film is paced in such a way that there isn’t a dull moment. But for me, the characters and the writing don’t do enough justice for me to like it enough. If I want a fun movie that I don’t have to think about (or can, and it still be as good, if not better) that has more action and survival, then I’ll pop in Mad Max: Fury Road. I’ve come to find that just because you have a famous name as a producer doesn’t mean much (I’m looking at you Transformers franchise). I’ll give this film a 5/10, mildly normal not recommend.