Sanctum is the definition of cinematic mediocrity. It's not a particularly good film, nor is it a bad one. The characters are insipid, the plot is conventional, and the production values are ordinary. I didn't feel much while watching the picture and will likely have completely forgotten about it in another week. The movie plays out like The Core meets Wolfgang Petersen's revamp of Poseidon. For my money, that's not an especially interesting combination.
The film follows a team of divers that set out to survey an underwater cave. While exploring, a freak storm occurs and the entrance becomes sealed off. With nobody coming to rescue them, the team is forced to make their way through the flooding, uncharted area. Leading the pack is Richard Roxburgh as Frank McGuire, a renowned diver. Joining Frank is Josh, his young son played by Rhys Wakefield, who is indifferent to his distant dad. But with any luck the fatal circumstances will bring the two closer together. Also on the exposition are Ioan Gruffudd as Carl and Alice Parkinson as his girlfriend, Victoria. The rest of the cast serves little purpose other than to impassively get killed off.
The inspiration for Sanctum was derived from the experiences of co-screenwriter Andrew Wight, who was once trapped in a system of underwater caves himself. In real life, though, I doubt that Wight's ordeal included a feuding father and son subplot and lots of "I'm not leaving you behind" speeches. Wight and first-time writer John Garvin seem to think that these clichés are necessary to provide heart. But they just make Sanctum feel generic where it had the potential to be a fascinating true story along the lines of 127 Hours.
The one admirable aspect of Sanctum is the cinematography by Jules O'Loughlin, who captures several complex underwater shots. Unfortunately, the distracting 3D effects overshadow most of those shots. It's no surprise that Sanctum will be playing in 3D, seeing how the film's producer is none other than James Cameron. Cameron believes that 3D will one day become the new standard for motion pictures. Cameron's Avatar was one of the finest demonstrations I've ever seen of what quality 3D effects can do for certain movies. Sanctum, on the other hand, is simply another example of a film where 3D adds nothing. To spend an additional $5 on those clunky glasses is the equivalent of money flushed down the drain.
Just when it seems like Sanctum is never going to take off; the film does redeem itself in the third act when one character reveals his true cowardly colors. By that point, though, the audience has become so detached from these shallow characters that they don't really care. Perhaps Sanctum will make for a decent rental when it's released on DVD. To venture to the theater, however, would result in a guaranteed unmemorable moviegoing experience.