Sanctum 3D Review: Splashing Around In The Shallow End


Sanctum300SANCTUM 3D: On General Release Friday 4th February

If someone said to you, “Do you want to go and see James Cameron’s Sanctum in 3D?” you’d probably be forgiven for giving them a funny look. Exactly what part of James Cameron is his sanctum anyway? Jokes aside, Sanctum 3D is a visually impressive but narratively deficient film about a caving expedition that doesn’t go quite the way it was planned.

Desperate to delve into the world’s largest unexplored cave system, a team made up of grizzled veteran Frank (Richard Roxburgh), his trusty assistant Crazy George (Charlie Boorman look-a-like Dan Wyllie) and long-time partner Judes (Allison Cratchley) are joined by American investor Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) and Frank’s son Josh (Rhys Wakefield).

When a storm and the subsequent deluge floods the caverns, the group quickly realise that the only way they’re going to get out is by diving into the uncharted depths below but they’ll have to put aside their personal differences or they’ll all be doomed.

Whatever you think of Cameron’s storytelling ability, he’s always been at the forefront of new technology, pioneering the 3D which made Avatar so visually impressive. He’s no stranger to the icy depths either; Cameron’s a director that’s plunged his actors into more bodies of water than a Witchfinder General – everything from the bombastic Titanic to the entirely sub-aqua The Abyss (not to mention the forthcoming Avatar sequels are reportedly going to feature large underwater sections).

It’s therefore no surprise that Sanctum 3D looks great – the shots of divers entering vast cathedral-sized caverns give an incredible sense of scale, the tight-squeezes through rocky tunnels are claustrophobically tangible and the action sequences are often exciting.

But while the visuals are often spectacular, Sanctum bursts its bubble with a largely forgettable cast of characters and a script which is marinated in cliché. The dialogue is simply awful and includes such unbelievable clangers as “What could go wrong diving in caves?” and Frank gruffly intoning passages of Kubla Khan. The dramatic interplay is obvious from the start – irritating walking haircut Josh has unresolved daddy issues about his adventurous father – no points for guessing how that’ll resolve itself – and Ioan Gruffudd’s hubristic millionaire (complete with an American twang from the Dick Van Dyke post-graduate course of appalling accents) seems destined for madness from the start.

The 3D might lift the film from the realms of the completely conventional but at its heart, it still feels like an afternoon TV movie. For a better caving thriller, seek out The Descent and for underwater chills, you need look no further than Cameron’s own The Abyss.