'Sanctum' barely holds water

Article Published: Feb. 10, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Sanctum' barely holds water

Rhys Wakefield and Richard Roxburgh star in 'Sanctum.'

For an underwater 3-D adventure, "Sanctum" is absurdly dry and flat.

Clutching a porous screenplay, its characters a?" though seemingly made of cardboard a?" just don"t float, better suited for a made-for-TV special. Dialogue is waterlogged, and the story is more predictable than a "SeaQuest" rerun.

But you can"t deny the film"s technical achievements. Armed with top-of-the-line 3-D cameras, courtesy of executive producer James Cameron ("Avatar"), and rousing cinematography from Jules O"Loughlin ("Kokoda"), "Sanctum" is, for better or worse, an immersive experience.

Caver extraordinaire Frank (Richard Roxburgh, "Van Helsing") and his team of professionals are mapping the South Pacific caves of Esa-Ala, an incredibly expansive network of subterranean passages that eventually leads to the sea.

They"re paid a visit by Frank"s rock climber son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield, "Broken Hill"), expedition financier and millionaire playboy adventurer Carl (Ioan Gruffudd, "Fantastic Four") and Carl"s girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine").

Josh is ever resentful of his father, who decided to spend his life in caves rather than with family, while Carl"s just in it for a good time (and to impress his girlfriend).

Instead, they"re in for a hell of a time, when a storm moves in faster than anticipated, effectively flooding the cave and trapping the crew below. With the egress blocked and a couple members already dead from the flood (and the cold heart of an underwater caver in full survival mode), Frank is determined to follow the subterranean river to the sea a?" at any cost.

Sure enough, one thing goes wrong after another, and the survivors are faced with dwindling supplies and, again, the cold heart of an underwater caver in full survival mode. In the process, Frank and Josh rekindle their father-son bond.

It"s standard action movie fare, but it"s R-rated movie fare. Director Alister Grierson ("Kokoda") doesn"t spare viewers the gruesome brutality of a treacherous caving expedition gown awry, including severe head trauma, partial scalping and drowning aplenty.

With the film"s claustrophobic surroundings (in effectively shot 3-D, no less), these factors make for a graphically intense experience that"s oftentimes cringe-worthy a?" but not quite as cringe-worthy as its stilted dialogue, wooden acting and misplaced attempts at comic relief.

Just because the name James Cameron is splashed all over the poster and credits doesn"t mean "Sanctum" is a good movie. It does, however, guarantee high production value and technical competency, neither of which are a substitute for good storytelling.

The 3-D effects and underwater camerawork are admirable, but those looking for substance in the same boat should probably rent Cameron"s "The Abyss." It"s not in 3-D (yet, anyway), but it does feature Ed Harris, a menacingly mustachioed Michael Biehn, and a drowning rat.

"Sanctum," rated R for language, some violence and disturbing images, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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