Sanctum (2011)
AKA: James Cameron's Sanctum (2011)

(Release Date: February 04, 2011)


Inert Sanctum.

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!!!

Sanctum is the latest entry into the genre that brought us The Cave, The Descent and Alien 2. In the case of these three earlier films I couldn't help but notice that these stories about being trapped in deep cave systems with little hope of escape would be incredibly scary even without the monsters (okay, maybe not Alien 2). Clearly James Cameron (or whomever James Cameron freely lends his name to) thought so too, because Sanka... I mean Sanctum... is pretty much exactly that... a trapped spelunker thriller with not a monster stirring, not even a louse.

Throw in some high-ass production values, fascinating cavescapes and a chilling premise, not to mention the added spice of 3 D and the thrilling gets top billing. So... why isn't that the case? Why does Sanctum fall so readily into its own hole without rescue?


It's not a complete sink-hole, but in spite of the quest of the plot, Sanctum just never goes anywhere and fails to surface after its 108 minute runtime.

We start with a chopper trek to one fantastically massive hole in the ground, WAY bigger than the one Punxsutawney Phil pops out of every February 2nd (though, to be fair, this film wasn't released until the day after Groundhog Day)! See, rich guy Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) wants to impress his hot girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) by showing her the spelunking trip he's funding (and possibly to decisively demonstrate that somewhere in the world, there's a bigger HOLE than he is).

While I was referring to the cave itself, the expedition's lead Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) comes pretty damned close to taking that "World's Biggest Hole" title for himself... just ask his disaffected son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who can't stand the guy.

Yeah, Frank's apprentices think about the same thing and would probably smile ear-to-ear if he were to yell out a big "YOU'RE FIRED!" but for the fact that when it comes to underwater cave exploration, he's second to none! Likewise, this massive cavern system, much of which is only accessible through vast amounts of freezing underground water, is second to none in the caving world. Hence Frank's interest. Hence Carl's interest. Hence the interest of Frank's lackeys like Daniel Wyllie's George and Allison Cratchley's Judes, both of whom know that Franky-boy is a bit of a pill. Still, they respect the guy like the pillar of the spelunking community that his ass really is.

However, after WEEKS of hanging around, swimming, recording every piece of moss they come across and seeing almost as many divergent sights as those trapped Chilean miners from a while back were sure to have, needless to say they're all getting a little stir-crazy and they're ready to get the eff-you-see-kay out of the hole. Unfortunately for them, as well as for Joshy, Carly and Victoriay, not to mention some clown named Luko (Cramer Cain) they're about to get a whole lot more time down deep under the soil of Papua New Guinea because lo and behold, a CYCLONE hits and there's no Land of Oz on the other side of this twister... not even a yellow brick road... just a really long underground river that may or may not lead to their salvation.

Sound interesting? Well it can be... sporadically, that is, amid long stretches of boring and predictable exposition and aimless trial-and-error wandering. It can also be quite beautiful in the occasional place, although most often it's a whole lot like watching five people walk and swim through caves and... then do it again... for a while. And then there's the whole father/ son heart-softening moment motif that feels a lot more like a Hallmark Channel movie of the week, rather than a Jim Cameron film.

Of course, that could well be due to the fact that Sanctum sure as sinking, isn't a Jim Cameron film. Yeah, he's credited as Executive Producer, but his fingerprints are less on this thing than they were on Piranha II. No, this film was directed by Alister Grierson on those Cameron-developed Cameron-Cameras that made Avatar look so damned fine. Screenwriters John Garvin and Andrew Wight based their script on a story by Wight who indicates that the tale was inspired by true events... some of them Wight's own experiences trapped in a subterranean labyrinth just a half an elevator stop from HELL itself, dudes and chicks.

Or so he claims. Two weeks underground sounds a lot less like an adventure and more like having to sit through Alien 2... again.

Cameron seems to have lent his name for marketing purposes, to further test out the cameras and cash in on the current 3D Boom he helped to spawn and, I'm guessing, because there's a new law somewhere on the books that nobody can make an underwater thriller of any kind without James Cameron's name on the damned thing.

However, on that note, one might as well watch Ghosts of the Abyss, Expedition: Bismark or even The Abyss or Titanic. Or, hell, just watch The Descent or The Cave, man! Just steer clear of Alien Fucking 2. Trust my ass on this one!

To be fair, Sanctum isn't all bad. In fact, there are a lot worse things that one can pass time with. The problemmo, mi amigos, is that primarily Sanctum is little more than a time-passer. It's hard to say just what's wrong with the film. The acting isn't bad and virtually every frame has something worth seeing in it. Still, almost everything to see in each frame is pretty much what we saw in the last one and the one before that and the one before that and so on and so forth and thus and so ad nauseum infinity plus one! Yeah, it's hard to put the old pinky on just what's wrong with this film, but there's just a whole hell of a lot not right about it.

Like I said, though, it's not a complete waste of time and the RealD looks fantastic. On the other hand, I couldn't help but think every once in a while how much I wished that "Where's Waldo" guy would pop up in the cave here and there to spice things up with his peppermint stripes and put a big, huge smile on the old face mask! Man, that Waldo! He really cracks me up, man. Him and Punxsutawney Phil! As for Sanctum? Well, it looks like we've got a few more months of winter before we can really rise up out of this chasm. But you've got one thing you can look forward to, kids... I'll see you in the next reel! Now let's all BUDDY BREATHE!

Swim through this link
and descend through the alien cave
to more reviews!

Sanctum (2011) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
Who is Solely Responsible for this Stalagmite of a site
And for the fact that the site keeps hanging around like a big, wet Stalactite!
Cave jokes... What could be more Grotesque?
Got something to say? Write it!

If we didn't know what Anus meant it wouldn't sound so bad. It kind of sounds like a Roman Emperor's name!
Like Anus Octavius Caesar IV! Am I RIGHT???
Navigation Links:
What's New?Alphabetical Listing of Reviews!SearchThisSite:Advertise With Us!About...Lynx Links:F*A*Q