"What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?" asks one of the moronic characters that populate this shameful subterranean shocker. Well, the worst thing that could happen is that someone makes an inane 3D movie about the venture. Ah, too late. The plot basically dumps a bunch of tedious fools in an uncharted underwater cave system, subjects them to predictable pitfalls and turns one of the characters into a horribly clichéd villain when it runs out of water-based dangers.
In between the repetitive splashing around sequences there's a laughably laboured subplot that dwells on the bonding process between gruff chief explorer Frank (Richard Roxburgh) and his estranged damp squib of a son Josh (Rhys Wakefield). This contrived attempt to inject some emotional truth into proceedings is a massive misfire, with the melodramatic dialogue between the pair making the kitchen sink melodramas in Neighbours look like a Brechtian dissection of human interaction.
The acting hardly rises above the material, with none of the cast doing anything of note to sell the (supposedly) harrowing ordeal to the viewer. Roxburgh mopes around rasping pseudo-mystical guff with a facial expression that denotes extreme constipation, Ioan Gruffudd barely registers as the mission's bankroller Carl and Alice Parkinson as the pathetic damsel-in-distress Victoria is the antithesis of the strong female heroines depicted in many Cameron blockbusters.
Worst of all is Wakefield as the supposed hero. He only appears to possess three settings beneath his blond boyband curtains: i) a vacant look that makes a shop window mannequin seem complex, ii) a scrunched up face and quivering top lip that resembles a bawling baby after a seagull has swooped to pinch the Rusks from his pram, and iii) an anguished wail of 'F*************K!' followed by an immediate visit to the Joey Tribbiani 'sniff the fart' school of acting (Dr Drake Ramoray - all is forgiven!).
With plenty of deaths and misfortunes taking place, there's a Jose Mourinho-style rotation system going on between ii) and iii) as Josh's immediate reactions, before quickly returning to i) as the demise of a close colleague is forgotten about in a matter of seconds. That could be construed as a positive for Sanctum, as at least there's some potential for a drinking game in conjunction with that. Anything to alleviate the boredom.
A strong visual element making worthwhile use of the 3D could have alleviated the boredom, but that is sorely lacking due to gormless direction, unimaginative set design and a flat use of lighting that fails to instil any atmosphere. The similarly cave-based The Descent effectively used the environment, evoking a strong sense of claustrophobia and excitement/trepidation over what lies ahead. There's none of that here. No creative spark whatsoever. To make matters worse, upcoming 'shocks' are blatantly signposted on the assumption that the audience has the attention span of a comatose gnat. For example, one scene begins with the camera dwelling on a sharp stalagmite protruding from the floor of a freshly discovered cave. Hmm, what are the odds on someone getting impaled on that bad boy?
Not that the audience should remotely care about the fates of anyone involved, given their nondescript nature. Treacherous character development, woeful acting, dire writing and shoddy direction all ensure that Sanctum is an unpleasant experience and one that has left this reviewer thumbing through a thesaurus in a bid to avoid running out of appropriate adjectives. Seriously, you'll find yourself more emotionally and viscerally involved by sticking some Lego men in a water filled blender and watching them go round and round.
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