Performances as bad as the script
Just when we thought it was safe to go cave diving again.
If last week’s 127 Hours set a benchmark for artistically and accurately documenting the reallife courage shown by man in ‘‘nature’s playground’’, Sanctum is its antithesis.
In hindsight, we should always be wary of any picture whose promotional poster has ‘‘3D’’ in larger font than the title, but given that James Cameron, film visionary and lover of all things underwater, was on board as executive director, it was fairly safe to assume we’d be in for a thrill ride.
Sanctum – very loosely based on an expedition into an underwater caving system that got hairy when a freak storm col- lapsed the entry point – does have its pulse-racing moments; the claustrophobic terror of divers squeezing through tight crevices or outclimbing powerful surges.
In some respects, this is due to an effective use of 3D and great set design, but mostly it’s because the characters aren’t required to speak in these scenes.
The script from John Garvin and Andrew Wight – the latter led the real diving trip – boasts some of the most ham-fisted dialogue I’ve endured in years, and the performances are no better. It’s like Home & Away, but with fewer costume changes.
Sanctum does foster an appealing Jules Verne-like spirit of adventure as the team make their way deeper into the cave system, towards the unknown, but it is constantly oppressed by overacting, one of the the most mawkish father-son subplots in cinema history, and lines like: ‘‘ Buddybreathing is the most radical thing you can do underwater.’’
We join a large team of adventure-seeking divers midway through an expedition in Paupa New Guinea, as they try to navigate their way through a cave system, believing it will extend all the way to the ocean. That belief is tested when a cyclone blocks the only other exit and floods the caverns.
Leading the charge is ‘‘ hard bastard’’ Frank ( Richard Roxburgh), a legendary cave explorer short on pleasantries or time for teenage son John ( Rhys Wakefield). He’s a bit of a cave Jedi, prone to spouting babble like ‘‘the machine can’t feel the cave’’ when the underwater gizmos fail to establish the way forward – which he, of course, can ‘‘sense’’.
Ioan Gruffudd – the most established actor involved, though you wouldn’t know it from his performance – plays the antagonist, cocky Yank Carl, who is funding the quest and is obsessed with the apparent glory that navigating the caves will provide.
He is joined by girlfriend Judes (Allison Cratchley), a
Sanctum skilled mountaineer who has never cave-dived before.
There’s a bunch of others who make up the team, who I’ll collectively name ‘‘fodder’’. They are on hand solely so we can amuse ourselves by determining the order in which they drown. Of course, nobody actually perished on Wight’s expedition – perhaps the most amazing component of the event.
I can’t help but feel that a more sincere depiction of the ordeal would have made for a more engaging cinema experience.
Rising fears: Despite stellar set design and underwater camera work,
is weighed down by its clunky script and over-reaching performances from its cast.