‘Sanctum 3D’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 11:50 am,

Sanctum 3d review Sanctum 3D Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Sanctum

Sanctum, the new underground action-thriller from executive producer James Cameron is working with a lot of different marketing angles: it’s inspired by true-life events, filmed with the same 3D cameras as Avatar, and shot on-location in one of the most breathtaking and dangerous places on Earth.

But do the various talking points come together for a cohesive and compelling cinematic thriller?

In case you’re unfamiliar with Sanctum, here’s the official synopsis:

The 3-D action-thriller Sanctum, from executive producer James Cameron, follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth. When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea.

Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific’s Esa-ala Caves for months.  But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank’s team—including 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd)—are forced to radically alter plans. With dwindling supplies, the crew must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out. Soon, they are confronted with the unavoidable question: Can they survive, or will they be trapped forever?

It’s no surprise that the buzz for Sanctum is most commonly associated with Cameron’s influence as executive producer rather than the film’s actual director, Alister Grierson – especially considering Grierson has only one other feature film to his name (Kokoda). But Cameron’s shadow looms large over Grierson’s movie – resulting in an extremely uneven final product: For every remarkable 3D shot or terrifying moment of real-life horror there’s a flat line of dialogue or cheesy plot device that drowns any chance the film will reach the emotional complexity either filmmaker intended.

Fans hoping for something more philosophical, like The Abyss 3D, will probably be disappointed. In general, Sanctum is a precautionary action tale that follows the same structure (and message) as every man vs. nature thriller pic that ever screened before it – except with better and more immersive visuals.

Sanctum Sanctum 3D Review

The characters are mostly caricatures: the brilliant adventurer/disconnected father Frank, the angry and impulsive son Josh, and the well-to-do/in-over-his-head financier, Carl. In some cases, despite being mostly one-note, the characters serve their basic purpose: the principles, Josh and Frank, have a likable dynamic and Crazy George, Frank’s right-hand-man (played by Dan Wyllie), provides the film with some much-needed yet subtle humor. Unfortunately, Gruffudd’s Carl is unforgivably flat and poorly written – his lines represent some of the most generic and unintentionally laughable dialogue moviegoers will see in a film this year.

As a result, the majority of the characters in Sanctum serve as meat for the figurative – and at one point literal – grinder. Their roles are established early on, with zero room for character growth – and audiences will not be surprised by who does and does not make it out of the cave in one piece.

Similarly, deaths are somewhat easy to foresee, lowering the effectiveness of well-crafted tension. In terms of character focus, Sanctum follows a horror-film structure to some extent: picking one person off at a time and forecasting the death with bad choices, overly insensitive behavior, or a callback to an earlier problem. How a character will meet their demise manages, at times, to still surprise (some of the deaths are pretty disturbing) but who is next to die is usually pretty clear ahead of time.

That said, what Sanctum is lacking in dynamic character development, it almost makes up for with chilling anxiety. The confines of the underground, and at times underwater, ratchet up the tension in even the most straightforward of scenes. The ever-present danger of the environment as well as the subsequent rules for survival are established early on – even before the freak storm sends the characters on a desperate life and death journey. Overall, Sanctum does a good job of riding this tension to the conclusion – while never breaking the rules that were established at the onset.

Mixed in with flat characters and tense action is an incredible 3D visual component – which is where Cameron’s interest in the project is most apparent. The 3D adds little to the more frantic action scenes, but the effect is beautifully showcased in many of the film’s incredible cave shots. Whether showcasing a grandiose underwater cathedral or looking down through a slim and jagged crack in a cave wall, the added depth is impressive. While there are certainly some CGI shots in Sanctum, it’s clear that Cameron’s 3D tech holds up in the real world as well as computer-generated ones, and lends further credibility to his claim that the format is here to stay.

Moviegoers who aren’t turned-off by limited character development will certainly enjoy Sanctum and the film rightly earns its place as a tense and engaging pre-spring thrill ride. However, there’s no doubt that a combination of poor dialogue, flat characters, and cheesy story mechanics will see many moviegoers laughing at inappropriate times, and overall the ending falls somewhat short of the emotional peak that Grierson was clearly working toward.

If you’re still trying to make up your mind, check out the trailer for Sanctum below:

Sanctum is now playing in wide release in Real 3D and IMAX 3D.

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. I still wanna see this. I wasn’t expecting any great character building. Just a visual feast with tense scenes. Plus I love caves and under water stuff so I’m gonna give this the 3D venture :).

  2. I might see this.

  3. More 3D rubbish Sam, not for me, plus it has intense Cammy selling point. Is the director to scared to put his own name out in front, or is the studio really desperate to use a famous directors name as a selling point for more cash. Probably the latter I’m thinking.

    • I’d go with the later as well.

      In all honesty, the first time I saw the theatrical trailer, I thought it looked like crap. Visuals alone won’t save the film when the acting looks awful, and your characters are lacking…no thanks, I’ll skip on this one completely.

    • It very wel could be, I’m a fan of Richard Roxburgh, his name is what made me think I might see it.

      • What films or shows of his are you a fan of Sam?

        Just wondering…looking on IMDB his list of roles looks sort of well…..up and down….as far as film goes, I haven’t heard of most of it, where as he’s been in stuff like Stealth, Van Helsing, and League of extraordinary gentleman….though Moulin Rouge is great.

        Just wondering if there is something you think he stands out in.

        • He was in a really good adaptation of Sherlock Holmes a few years ago, it was done on the BBC.

          • Hey dudes,
            Zach- The only Richard Roxburgh stuff worth viewing are his Australian films/TV shows. He’s quite good in them. Oh and the Sherlock Holmes Sam mentioned, also, quite good.
            As for Sanctum… Big let down. As an Aussie, I was looking forward to the fact that an Australian director had a big shot a making a reasonably budgeted Hollywood film. Alister Grierson made the very low budget and legitimately good film, Kokoda, which kind of gave me high expectations. Then when the sanctum trailers started coming out I realized that that is all this movie is going to be. A typical Hollywood film. The dialogue is poor and the film just feels overacted. About the only thing that is good: At some points the 3D is quite impressive (only some points), and the action/death scenes, even though expected, are pretty nicely done. So, that is all some Australian guy sitting in his room before work has to say. Hope this gives you guys some idea of what the film’s like and also opens you up to some good Aussie film making! :)

    • While I’m not defending this movie, using an EP’s name as a major selling point for a film doesn’t necessarily mean the film itself is going to be bad. They did the same thing with District 9 and Peter Jackson and we all know how that turned out.

      Just saying …

  4. No thanks cammey.

    • Agreed 790!!!

    • Seriously…..I watched the special on some educational channel….and most of the “action” scenes were filmed on a soundstage. They showed the stunts being performed on the set before the techs dressed up the sets…obvious this will be in the BD release bonus feature. I was very dissapointed and knew then I would not go. In the trailer you see all the climatic action that was viewed in the special. Besides I am still pissed Jim for “Fern Gully II.”

  5. Why is Cameron wasting his time on formulaic B movie stuff like this? Did he lose a bet or something?

  6. it was ok, however it approached a different level of creepy when you sit back and remember that every way someone dies in this actually happened to someone somewhere. you just can’t sit there and say ‘ha! they deserved it!’ quite the same when you realize that. For the most part i went to see this for the cave not for the plot so i wasn’t disappointed when i found that yes you could indeed predict with 100% accuracy who was going to die next. the 3D worked really well i think it added a lot of depth to the cave and there were some points where you you could feel just how big those cave were.

  7. 1. Why did you give this THREE stars?

    2. The marketing amazed me in the past few weeks. I saw posters with silly 60′s comic book style amaze-o-topia sensationalism. Before that, the presentation of movie trailers seemed to speak of a pretty serious drama.

    3. SPOILER
    I know within a minute or two that the boy and the father would be weeping in each other’s arms by the end of the movie.

    4. SPOILER
    I was making up a scene in my head: The kid was JUST going to finish off his father when Carl would pop up–”I found it, I found the open ocean! We’re all safe!”

    5. SPOILER
    I’m not sure I care, but why the intense “don’t go there” from Carl? Did I miss a visual? I thought that maybe Carl had started eating her. Or worse. (Yes there is a worse, but too “worse” for even this movie–slightly.)

    • this was a painful movie to endure. Now to find out no one actually died on the real expedition actually irritates me. Just awful I couldn’t sleep after I saw it. So bad when Carl was set on fire then just kept chatting with his face blistering was asinine. So if your interested in watching a nice young man slowly mercy drown his father check it out. I feel like they owe me an apology …..HATED IT!! What a bummer True Grit was sold out.

    • I really thought that he was eating her too.
      I wish someone could confirm or deny it officially.

  8. I actually enjoyed this movie. I don’t know why everyone hates it so much- The acting was decent, it was very suspenseful, I found it somewhat predictable but hey, all movies are! The scenery was beautiful and I was actually crying when Cameron had to drown his dad! I would recommend this movie to a lot of people. Yes, I know movies- I work in a video store.

    • I lsoved this movie. But i did find it goary. But over all I loved it

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