Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Alister Grierson

Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some violence and disturbing images)

Running Time:  1:49

Release Date: 2/4/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 4, 2011

After one of the many, many deaths in Sanctum, the seemingly heartless, survivalist leader of an ill-fated expedition through a massive cave system assures the survivors, "We'll mourn in the sunlight." It's a statement as false in the sympathy department toward characters, who exist primarily as fodder for flooding waters, boulders, and rogue climbing equipment, as the rest of the character development (for those who have the luxury of existing as a bit more than inevitable corpses) is purely clichéd sentiments.

To understand the four who last the longest, one must only know that two are lovers while the other two are father and son. As such, each member of the first pair cares about the safety of the other (or, better—since the screenplay doesn't have much faith in its female characters, who are here only to cause problems for their male counterparts or panic at inopportune moments—that the man is protective of his borderline incompetent girlfriend), and the dad is protective of his son, who just doesn't understand why pops only appears an uncaring S.O.B. when people die in a life-or-death scenario.

Their relationship is summed up, like every other important thematic and character point in John Garvin and Andrew Wight's screenplay, by a transparent line of dialogue: "He's a hell of a guy, your old man, once you get to know him." It's not spoiling anything to say the young man who comes to realize he really is daddy's boy repeats that line in a closing narration (which, by the way, happens in the sunlight and without much mourning), just as it's not giving anything away to say that characters die off one at a time in increasing order of importance.

It's a shame, because director Alister Grierson and cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin create a template of claustrophobic tension throughout much of the multitude of exploration sequences (Even, dare I say, with the aid of 3-D in certain moments, where the depth of rocks and ledges registers a bit more, though for every successful, stereoscopic medium shot, there are at least two phony-looking wide shots that ruin the illusion). The son questions why anyone bothers with cave diving, and, with these shadowy recesses leading to blackness and constricted tunnels that seem to go on forever, we can only ask how anyone can have the gastrointestinal fortitude to do it.

The son is Josh (Rhys Wakefield), uncertain about a life under the earth but pressured by the old man. He is Frank (Richard Roxburgh), a veteran spelunker compared to Columbus or Neil Armstrong by another character. That character is Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), who funds the exploration and goes on adventures himself, like a trip to the mountains where the meets his girlfriend. She is Victoria (Alice Parkinson), who is going underground for the first time but thinks there can't be too much to it.

Then there are the rest.  George (Dan Wyllie) is the comic relief. J.D. (Christopher Baker) is the redhead. Liz (Nicole Downs) is one woman, and Judes (Allison Cratchley) is the other.

Some escape the pit before a massive storm arrives early (Surprise, surprise) and blocks the only known way out of the cave system, but most of them die. A couple are killed mercifully (by drowning, an odd choice since the camera lingers on the face of one character who drowns to instill a sense of horror) after severe injuries, like taking rock walls to the face a few times and landing on a stalagmite. Another's hair is caught in a line hook, dangling precariously over a whirlpool Frank dubs a "meat-grinder." One, at least, tries to die with some dignity after suffering decompression sickness, hiding so as not to slow the rest up.

The slim point to the proceedings, as Frank puts it, is to never, ever give up no matter what happens, and certainly it's a scenario that works better through actions than words, especially when so much of the dialogue relies on stating the obvious. When the climax involves a three-way brawl, Garvin and Wight manage to drop the ball on that front, too.

The beats of Sanctum are habitual. We tick off the seconds until another hazardous situation arrives with utter dependability.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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