'Sanctum' Review By Jami Philbrick
While it starts off slow, the film eventually picks up momentum and takes the audience on a very satisfying thrill-ride. The 3D is excellent, the underwater cinematography is breathtaking, and the cast delivers believable performances.
The movie was actually directed by Alister Grierson and is based on a true story that happened to the writer, Andrew Wight. Although the beginning does start off a little slow, and the characters are a bit predictable, the film really picks up once the adventure begins. Grierson seems to have a real eye for the tropical surroundings and the underwater scenes are incredible. He used the same 3D cameras as "Avatar" and the beautiful landscapes look great. Since so much of "Avatar" was done with green screens on a sound stage it was interesting to see how the effects worked with a practical background. The result was a rich and deep backdrop with a dark and mysterious tone. Andrew Wight conceived a great story but the script seems weak on dialogue in the beginning before the suspense starts. Much of the characters dialogue and actions seem cheesy or forced. But at the same time, with all due respect, that's what makes it feel like a James Cameron movie. Lets face it ... Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four") is basically playing Giovanni Ribisi's role in "Avatar," who was basically playing Paul Reiser's role from "Aliens," the cowardly bureaucrat who only cares about money and himself. What the film captures well is the Cameron aesthetic, warts and all.
The film begins by introducing us to Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), who is leading a team to explore deep into the South Pacific's Esa-ala Caves. The team includes his 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd), and his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson). When a tropical storm hits while the team is deep underground in the caverns, and their exit is blocked, their plans begin to radically change. Now Frank must help navigate the group through the underwater labyrinth in order to make it out alive. With most of their equipment gone and air running out, several members of the group begin to panic, while Frank becomes desperate to get Josh out alive. With air and time running out, the group will have to put its differences behind them and begin to trust each other if they have any hope of surviving the storm and getting out of the caves alive. At the heart of the film is a touching story about a father and son getting to know each other under life and death circ*mstances.
Overall I really liked the movie, al things considered. I actually jumped out of my seat more than once. The acting is pretty good, especially Richard Roxburgh who plays Frank. He is cold, and hard on his son but when you see the dangerous world that he exists in you understand why. The actor has a certain quality that you want to watch, and it helps him in the role. Newcomer Rhys Wakefield was excellent in the role of Josh. Not only does the actor give a strong performance but he also does many of his own stunts and is quite believable in the part. Ioan Gruffudd is an actor I've always liked and he has given good performances in films like "Amazing Grace" or even the "Fantastic Four" movies so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. His character is obviously the antagonist and although his actions are very predictable at times, and his dialogue is cheesy, I believe that could just come from weak writing. I think that Gruffudd did an admiral job of trying his best to humanize his character and really make him as three-dimensional as possible. In the end he has a full arc and the character's journey makes sense, but that is a result of Gruffudd's abilities as an actor, and not the result of a strongly written screenplay.
The screenwriter, Andrew Wight, is an expert diver and was inspired to write the screenplay based on a near-death experience that he had leading a diving expedition deep into a system of underwater caves, then having to find a way out after a freak storm collapsed the entrance. While I can see how that experience inspired this story, I think that Wight's lack of screenwriting experience hurt the script. As I've mentioned, the character development and dialogue early in the film is not as well crafted as the rest of the movie. But once the action of the story begins, it doesn't matter. You are off and running with these characters and are completely wrapped up in the life and death adventure that these characters are involved in. The 3D really helps to create a claustrophobic world that immerses the audience as much as it immerses the characters in the film. The underwater world is really extraordinary to see and well shot by Grierson. In the end, "Sanctum" is not quite as good as some of Cameron's other films, but it is worthy of having his name attached. It's almost unfair to compare it to other Cameron films, since he didn't direct this, Grierson did. I'm curious how the film might have been different if Cameron had actually directed it, but that being said, I still really enjoyed the movie and think that it is a satisfying thrill-ride. I would definitely recommend seeing this film and especially catching it while it is in theaters so you can see it with the 3D. "Sanctum" is no "Avatar," but it is a beautifully shot, captivating, entertaining and suspenseful movie that any fan of Cameron's work will want to check out.