First, a little truth in advertising. You may or may not be disappointed to learn that, despite the proud branding in the trailers, Sanctum is not a James Cameron film. He didn't direct it. He didn't write it.
He did, though, serve as one of the multiple executive producers; and lent his patented 3-D camera, left over from Avatar, to the proceedings; and maybe, given his fondness for watery depths, even had a hand in hatching the general idea.
To wit, stick that camera down an aquatic cave, wrap a paper-thin plot around it, slap the whole thing up on an IMAX screen and call it a movie. More truth in advertising: Call it a lame movie.
The actual director, Alister Grierson, starts by offering a minor reward for putting on those hefty plastic glasses. He takes us on a swooping helicopter ride over the jungles of Papua New Guinea, then hovers for an aerial view of Esa'ala, better known in these frames as "the mother of all caves."
Gathered around the mother is a grizzled daddy name Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the expedition's Aussie leader who, as he later confesses, "hasn't been anything of a father" to his teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield). Seems they don't get along, but no worries mate - expect male bonding to ensue.
There too are Carl the financier, Victoria his lady love, and assorted other mortals accessorized with heaps of high-tech gear for the spelunking descent.
And descend we do, first into the cave proper, then into the aforementioned watery depths. Actually, our first dive is almost thrilling, if only because the hoary dialogue stops while the film turns blissfully silent, just heavy breathing and pretty bubbles.
Indeed, in dramatizing the mini-disaster that always precedes the big disaster, Grierson issues his only gripping scene - the look on a disoriented diver's face when down is indistinguishable from up, when the mask fills inexorably with water and that last breath is nigh.
Unfortunately, back up top, someone breaks the silence by opening his yap and insisting that, "Panic is the vulture that sits on your shoulder." Sounds messy.
Soon, of course, we got ourselves a whole flock of vultures squatting on a whole bunch of shoulders. Why? Easy: Violent storm floods cave, exit sealed off, must find other way out, who will survive? Yep, the plot.
Not that we care much, for the simple reason that, although the new-fangled camera has a third dimension, the characters do not - and, well, one flat demise looks pretty much like another.
Consequently, when a dark soul informs us that "there is no God down here," the only possible response is an atheistic shrug followed by our own deep plunge into sarcasm: "Hell, what's worse, there ain't no drama either."
However, thanks to that precious third D, and the presence of so many scuba divers in peril, there is ample opportunity to enjoy the delight of getting kicked in the eye by a madly thrashing flipper. I surely did duck a time or three.
And don't forget the poignancy of all that father-son bonding. Memo to lifestyle editors: Assign your best scribe to report on the hitherto obscure fact that parenting skills are vastly improved by the proper mixture of Dark Caves + Lethal Water + Near-Death Experiences.
Then again, it helps that grizzled old Frank turns out to have a surprisingly poetic side, forever quoting the first lines of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Yep, "a stately pleasure dome" keeps on getting decreed. If only it got delivered.
Instead, we get the moral of the tale, issued early by another yapper on dry ground: "Life's not a dress rehearsal, you gotta seize the day." Oh, well said. So carpe Sanctum, dude, but caveat emptor. That exhausts my store of Latin, yet luckily I still have a few Advil left - those damn plastic glasses do weigh on a fellow.
- Directed by Alister Grierson
- Written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight
- Starring Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield
- Classification: 14A
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