Into the Deep


04 February 2011| No Comments on Sanctum     by Sean Chavel


The cinematography isn’t always first-rate but nevertheless the scenery is captivating. Sanctum plunges us into the deep underwater caves of Papua, New Guinea where adventurers get unexpectedly waterlogged. This production also absorbs us with clichéd characters who don’t know better to shut up. One character gets you intrigued and he’s Frank (Richard Roxburgh, the Duke in “Moulin Rouge”), the no-nonsense leader of the expedition whose life is dedicated to seeking out danger. The rest of the characters are invariable dunderheads. But as an unpretentious disaster movie where characters get picked off one by one by fatal circumstances it kind of gets your pulse going and it gets you munching on your popcorn. And with all those dunderheads flapping around terminal mistakes will be had. 3-D is better utilized than most flicks in this current craze, but still unnecessary and still inadequate. See it in 2-D if you can.

I really am eager to go on a tirade about how much I hate 3-D. First and foremost, I was entertained by the treacherous scenery and by Frank. But if I am allowed to pick apart 3-D in this case, that hasn’t been said by others, is that here you get shots of people and then rain falling over them – in foreground depth – that is obviously superimposed by computers. Sometimes the rain doesn’t look like rain, it looks like hologram mini-icicles. Then there are other shots where the people appear in natural light and foreground stones are diminished in an entirely different tint. Also, I see more depth when I take the damn glasses off. 3-D glasses in general are nothing more than Plastic Blinders.

What’s maybe cheesier is the introductory banter between these characters. This is one of those movies where an adventurer does something wild and then their friends yell enthusiastically “You crazy, sonuvabitch!” There is also an original one where a friend ridicules Frank: “Your ass is so tight that when you fart nobody can hear you!” Frank has a petulant, but valiant, young son named Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who naturally despises his father’s ways because the two never got to know each other enough until now. But when the spelunking adventure commences you might find your initial boredom convert to stimulation.

Seven or eight people (I forget) get trapped and then dislike Frank’s hard-headed methods in dealing with the initial dead. Frank is a pragmatic man, you see, and he knows that these fellow survivors won’t last if they only focus on grieving. You can only move forward and search for a hopeful exit. Any hope for an exit seems impossible, to the audience, and it’s us holding our breath. The deeper the survivors dive, the deeper they appear to be trapped under Earth. Can they just stay in one place that’s a dry air pocket and hope for a rescue team? Frank says there will only be an eventual team to remove corpses. People should listen to Frank.

Frank and Josh create a never-say-die chemistry that’s praiseworthy once Josh has given up his petulance and has developed iron-clad admiration for Pop. At a certain point, Frank and Josh are up against the whiny self-preserving married couple Carl and Victoria (Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson), and all you can think is, if one of them dies then the other is going to have a vendetta against Frank.

Light is supposedly scarce, but they always have these backup flashlights it seems. And the flashlight beams magically light up the screen! It’s just another contrived element that you must forgive in order to enjoy this B-grade subterranean entertainment. You can’t digest this as authentic realism, except the caves themselves (Thank you, New Guinea). If you judge a film though by its expertise in mise en scén then you’re at the wrong movie. But you love disasters-that-go-wrong so you considerably might find yourself tuning in.

109 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “K2” (1991); “Vertical Limit” (2000); “Touching the Void” (2003); “127 Hours” (2010).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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