The last time I trusted a movie that advertised itself as “X Filmmaker Presents” was back in the 80s when Steven Spielberg executive produced protégés such as Chris Columbus (THE GOONIES) and Robert Zemeckis (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT). These days, anytime I see a prominent filmmaker’s name as the main selling point of a movie in which he/she did not direct the movie, I get scared because that usually means the film blows (exception: 2009’s DISTRICT 9, which was produced by Peter Jackson). Based on the trailers, SANCTUM looked like an interesting enough film to spend 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon. Divers stuck in an unexplored underground cave as they deal with each other and dwindling resources…what’s not to like? The advertising kept pushing James Cameron’s name, which is not a bad thing considering he recently directed the highest-grossing film of all time and the man is known to have a hard-on for anything related to diving and being underwater. What’s more, SANCTUM’s plot was inspired by true events and that’s always a selling point for me. However, it wasn’t lost on me that the film was being released in February, which is notoriously known in the industry as a dumping ground for bad films studios don’t know what to do with. Against my better judgment, I still decided to see the film despite it receiving poor reviews. In the end, SANCTUM didn’t amount to the horrible piece of shit that many critics claim that it is, but its also not something I would recommend you spend money to go see in a theater. At the same time, should you decide to ignore my and everyone’s else’s reviews and go see it, then I suggest you try to find the largest screen you can so you can see it in the way it was intended to be viewed.

SANCTUM is supposedly inspired by true events experienced by the film’s co-writer, Andrew Wight. The film is set in an underwater cave in Papua New Guinea where an exploration is taking place of the cave’s undiscovered underground network. A team of explorers led by a grizzled veteran cave explorer, Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), undertakes the task of discovering the network. Joining the team is the expedition’s bank roller, Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd –THE FANTASTIC FOUR’s Mister Fantastic), his girlfriend, Victoria, and Frank’s son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield). The expedition is going fine until a freak tropical storm hits the island and begins to flood the underground caves, including the cave site that serves as the expedition’s headquarters. The team is forced to leave its site and enter the vast network of caves in the hopes that the caves will eventually lead them to the ocean and eventually to the shoreline. Complicating matters is the fact that no one has yet explored the network in its entirety and the team has a rapidly dwindling supply of resources to survive.

SANCTUM is inspired by true events and the operative word here is “inspired” because based on what I saw, the filmmakers undoubtedly used a gigantic creative license to play with the story. With that said, I wish this movie had been a documentary so that we could have seen what the true story was about. Considering the film’s co-writer supposedly underwent a near death experience, I can’t imagine why the filmmakers would find it necessary to add to the story to make it interesting (assuming the co-writer’s experience was interesting). In fact, it might have provided for a far more entertaining film had the writer and director not attempted to tell a story since they clearly were unable to do so anyway.

If there’s anything positive to say about the movie, SANCTUM has an interesting premise. It deals with underground and underwater caves that no human has yet explored. SANCTUM held a lot of potential to be an exciting ride, especially if you’re claustrophobic. Unfortunately, lack of talent and inexperience plagues this movie from the start. I was surprised such a novice was hired to helm this film because what SANCTUM really needed was someone of James Cameron’s caliber who understands story and character and is able to stage dramatic action sequences. Some might think that with such a strong premise, not a whole lot is needed to produce a good film. However, as you can see from the end result here, just because you’re handed a good idea on a silver platter doesn’t mean you can’t fuck it up.

SANCTUM suffers from many problems that ultimately bog the film down and create an unmemorable experience. For one, the dialogue spoken by the actors is horrendous. At first I wasn’t sure the problem was compounded by bad acting, but I don’t think it really mattered whether the acting was good or not. You wince at every word uttered by the actors so much so that you feel relief when the film goes into action mode because you’re spared from any more cheesy conversations between the characters. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie where I could practically predict the next word the actor would say due to how clichéd the dialogue was. None of this is helped by the fact that the acting is sub-par, but I think as much blame can go toward the writers for creating clichéd, one-dimensional characters than the acting abilities of the actors. No matter how good of an actor you are, there is so much that you can do when both the dialogue and the characters are so poorly written. Every character perfectly fits a stereotype. For example, Frank, the expedition leader, is the typical hard-ass whose obsession with caves has alienated him from his family and society. His son Josh is the estranged child who can’t connect with his father’s obsession, but who eventually reconciles with him after he embarks on this adventure with his dad and gets to really know his father. Carl, the bank roller, is your typical uber-competitive douchebag who lives for extreme thrills. We’ve seen all of these characters before in a countless number of movies.

Another issue with the film is the predictability of the story. You don’t need to see as many movies as I have to know where every single sub-plot is going to lead. From the first 10 minutes alone, you will have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen throughout the rest of the movie, including who is and who isn’t going to die. The amateur quality of the writing becomes especially noticeable in this sense and it makes for a dull and forgettable viewing. Throughout the film I kept thinking back to Cameron’s THE ABYSS. That film shares many similarities to SANCTUM, but unlike the latter, THE ABYSS was a tense and exciting experience where you had little idea of what the final outcome of the story was going to be. What’s more, each character had his or her own unique and fascinating story that added complex layers to the basic narrative. This is how SANCTUM should have been.

The most disappointing aspect of SANCTUM is the lack of energy and excitement in the action sequences. Given the film’s premise, one should be safe to assume that if for nothing else, SANCTUM should easily be able to provide the audience with edge-of-your-seat sequences. Instead, we’re left with sequences that although are not complete shit, they lack any suspense. I was hoping that with James Cameron’s involvement and the fact that it was shot in 3D, the most accomplishable thing for the director would have been in creating the action sequences. Apparently, I was mistaken. Furthermore, I never got the feeling that the characters were in much danger even though the story establishes the fact that the characters were dangerously low on supplies. I suppose the beginning setup of the characters as experienced adventurers who have gone through many dangerous situations eliminates any notion that what they are going through is more dangerous than anything they have experienced before. I never felt like they couldn’t get past whatever obstacle they were facing.

Most surprisingly, I barely noticed the 3D in SANCTUM. One would think that a film produced by 3D godfather James Cameron would contain some pretty fucking great 3D on par with AVATAR. On the contrary, aside from watching 3D rain falling from the sky, the rest of the movie could have been in 2D and you wouldn’t have even noticed the difference.

In the end, SANCTUM turns out to be just another February landfill movie that will eventually turn up in the dollar DVD bins or be featured with another bad movie as part of a double-feature DVD. Given what a perfectionist James Cameron is, I was surprised that he was willing to lend his name to such a dreck of a film. Moral of the story is: never trust a movie that heavily advertises itself as being produced by a famous director. Chances are, its not going to be a worthwhile investment of your movie money.

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