Release Date (UK) – 13th June 2011
Certificate (UK) – 15
Country – US
Director – Alister Grierson
Running time – 90 mins
Starring – Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie
Produced by James Cameron and directed by Alister Grierson, Sanctum is a psychological action-thriller that follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition into the largest, least accessible cave system on Earth. The team, led by master diver Frank McGuire (Roxburgh), is joined by billionaire financier Carl Hurley (Gruffudd) who is keen to lead the team in new discoveries and so secure his place in history. Disaster soon strikes the expedition as a tropical storm forces the small team deeper into the caverns. As the body count starts to rise, the team must somehow navigate their way through the uncharted underwater labyrinth to make it to the surface.
It’s all fairly predictable stuff from a film of this ilk, and while its visuals may be stunning and its subject matter both brutal and at times quite harrowing, those looking for a psychological thriller with a bit more subtlety — a little more (excuse the pun) depth — should probably look elsewhere.
The characters are, for the most part, sharply drawn stereotypes. We have the gritty master diver obsessed with caving; the rich kid son; the arrogant, idiot billionaire; and of course the inexperienced billionaire’s girlfriend whom he ‘met on Everest’. Naturally as the tension starts to mount each character must confront their fears or succumb to the terror of isolation and inevitable death. While it’s hard to really sympathise with any of the characters in Sanctum (the son Josh is particularly annoying), as the film progresses the relationship between the father and son does pick up and we are, for a few brief moments at least, persuaded that they might actually be real people.
As alluded to earlier in this review, Sanctum really can be quite a harrowing film. The film’s 15 rating is perhaps on the low side, although the psychological terror of the film is difficult to quantify. As you would come to expect, the body-count is pretty high, with the film featuring a number of swollen corpses and more than one mercy killing/suicide. The culmination of all this is that Sanctum can really feel hard going at times. The subject matter is grim and there are few, if any, real moments of light to contrast with the desperation and offer the audience any form of relief from what is a relentless assault on the emotions.
While the Blu-Ray special features may be fairly limited in terms of scope, fans of the film will be pleased to find a long and fairly comprehensive documentary ‘Sanctum: The Real Story’ that includes clips of the film in production as well as some background information on the caving incident that ‘inspired’ the film’s plot. What the special features teach us is that while Sanctum may be sold on the fact it’s ‘based on a true story’, this claim should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. The concept may be based on a true story, but then if every film that shared a concept with an element of real life made this claim, then every film would be sold as being based on truth.
Naturally, with James Cameron as its producer, Sanctum will do well. Such is Cameron’s status these days that his name alone will probably sell more DVDs than perhaps the film deserves if judged solely on its merits. If hard-hitting, terror-filled films are your thing, then Sanctum is probably worth a watch. For a deeper, more sophisticated action-thriller, you should definitely look elsewhere.
Pre-order your copy here.