By: Addison Wylie
Sanctum is a bad movie. Sanctum is a bad movie that takes place in a dark cave. However, not only is it a bad cave movie, but Director Alister Grierson’s film reinforces everything I hate about movies that take place in the depths of the earth.
In Papua New Guinea, the Esa’ala cave exists. Although it looks tempting to any eager spelunker, the cave itself holds dangers due to the fact that portions of the underground abyss haven’t been fully examined. However, this doesn’t stop Frank McGuire from tackling this daunting task. McGuire, played by Richard Roxburgh, is accompanied by a large team consisting of the expedition financier Carl Hurley, played by Ioan Gruffudd, and his girlfriend Victoria, played by Alice Parkinson. Along for the trek as well is Frank’s estranged son Josh, played by Rhys Wakefield. There’s a wee bit of uncomfortable drama but the team begins to click with each other. Suddenly, the cave starts to flood due to a natural disaster. The team notices the water rising and, thus, they quickly embark on an adventure to escape the infinite hollow.
The problem with Sanctum and other movies that take place in caverns is that the location is never really visually appealing. The eroded walls and the dank floors never change and never look as dangerous as they should. Cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin, Production Designer Nicholas McCallum, and Art Director Jenny O’Connell fall victim of the challenging location and fail to make the surroundings captivating. Even when the characters are swimming and climbing through the tight spaces, there’s never a strong sense of nerve-wracking claustrophobia. I’m sure in the right hands, caves could look interesting. I eagerly await that film.
Lighting has also been a big problem in these types of movies too. In Sanctum, scenes either look too dark, that they cast sloppy shadows over prominent people as they speak, or the lighting looks unnatural. Streaks of coloured light crash onto the walls during some scenes that make the ominous cave look like a room inside a cheesy haunted house. The overall digital look to the film reeks of something you might find on a run-of-the-mill sci-fi television channel at three in the morning. However, even that television station would be ashamed of showing this cheap looking product.
The film has the feeling of watching a bland documentary about spelunking reenacted by bad actors. This fault could’ve spawned from the script written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight due to Wight’s previous film experience consisting of documentaries, including Executive Producer James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, and how inexperienced the duo are with this writing structure. This story is also based on similar events Wight has encountered in his life. The events seem to have affected the screenwriter outside of the movie but that passion is not transferred into the movie. The audience never feels the dread Frank and his team are feeling because of how flat the characters are written and how laughably bad the dialogue is. Garvin and Wight write their characters as cutouts from a generic action thrillers; spouting off one liners and swears (especially Gruffudd’s Carl character). It’s as if the writing duo thought that if they revved up the characters and had them scream and act stressed all the time, it would cover up the instances of monotony the story has on paper. Some of this blame is also directed towards Grierson for motivating his actors in this manner. It leads to another problem I have with cave movies. If the characters are uninteresting and unimaginable, what makes you think I want to be trapped in a life or death situation with them?
There’s only one good part in Sanctum and I can’t really go into detail about it without spoiling a portion of the film. The scene involves the drowning of a character. We see this one specific actor perform exceptionally; acting frantically in order to escape the situation. The one moment that is particularly chilling is when we see their scuba mask start to fill up with water. When the movies concludes, it’s that moment in particular we remember and where the audience realizes what Sanctum could’ve been if it was written with more depth and directed with that competent eye we saw during that disturbing scene.