While there may not be a better combo of credits to promote a film with, economically, than the names James Cameron and AVATAR, apparently that doesn’t mean anything qualitative.
Receiving a producing credit on the film, SANCTUM marks the return, of sorts, to the film world for the man who this time last year, was basking in the glory of the highest grossing film ever made, the aforementioned blue cat person sci-fi film. And while AVATAR is ultimately a fun film, SANCTUM not only features a dreadfully cliché narrative like the film that made this one possible, but it ultimately fails on a wholly cinematic level.
Directed by Alister Grierson, SANCTUM follows a group of adventurers, as they attempt to explore one of the world’s last yet-to-be-accessed cave system. Featuring a cast of relatively smaller named actors, the film has all the makings of something really intriguing. The mixture of James Cameron producing, interesting visuals, and inherent tension from the fact that it takes place in a cave, should have meant easy cinematic math, resulting in an answer equal to or greater than a solid piece of cinema, right?
Yeah, this isn’t that.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest flaw comes within the narrative. Based on a screenplay penned by John Garvin and Andrew Wight (who also gets the story credit on the film), SANCTUM isn’t necessarily a poorly written film. There are a few great moments of character development here, and while it itself is also part of the film’s overall problem, the relationship between the father and the son, script wise, works.
That said, the relationship is completely trite, cheap and cliché, that while it may work conceptually, it does nothing to set itself apart from films of its ilk, and it also says nothing about father/son relationships or how they work. It’s a fine piece of writing structurally, but even there, you see the series of events, and after the first mishap, the film pans out like a quarterback screaming out to a receiver to prepare to catch a pass. You’ll be the cornerback more than willing to pick it off early, walk out, and feel much better for not having waited to see what you expected to happen come true (sorry, I’m in a Super Bowl type of mood).
Grierson himself does save a lot of this material. The inner cave shots, of which make up the majority of the film, are really breathtaking, despite some hackney CGI. However, it is the underwater shots that really save the film. They look absolutely fantastic, and have a great sense of depth and scope to them, ultimately making the film seem far broader and far more interesting than it actually and truthfully is.
The film’s cast dismantles much of his work however.
You know you are in a bit of trouble when Ioan Gruffudd is your biggest star, and he makes good on that very worry. He stars as the financier of the expedition, a free spirit named Carl, and gives one of the most laughable performances I’ve seen in some time. It’s tonally all over the place, but with his arch completely telegraphed by the writers, you feel no emotional connection to him or his plight. Alice Parkinson is completely cartoonish as his girlfriend Victoria, who gives line readings like she’s giving a sermon, just without the conviction. Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield play father and son Frank and Josh, and while they themselves give fine performances for what they are asked, their characters seem to come right out of a screenwriter’s text book. Dan Wyllie is ultimately the star, but is absolutely wasted here as the comedic relief, George. It’s a really fun performance, that gets no room to breath.
Overall, this film doesn’t do much cartoonishly wrong. However, it has no pretentions at doing anything of much at all. It’s a horribly cliché film that seems to be ripped right out of the pages of any Screenwriting 101 textbook. Cameron may have had his hands on the film, but if so, I’d really like to see his work, because he and this film’s crew botched a pretty easy equation of cinematic entertainment.
SANCTUM – 4/10