Movie News & Reviews

'Sanctum' a deep dive into boredom

I have two main fears: water too deep to see the bottom, and getting trapped in tight, confined places.

Well, that and a whole bunch of other stuff. But those two things are enough to restrict me from exciting careers such as transatlantic swimming and gynecology.

But you know what? Those guys who box with sharks and hold outer space breath-holding competitions are probably afraid of stuff, too. I bet some of them wouldn't last one day as a spider farmer or a curator of large, open spaces.

So just think of that the next time you start to feel bad watching a crew of heroes fearlessly blow up an asteroid or dive miles below Earth's surface. Or if you're watching the forgettable Sanctum, simply enjoy watching them die one by one.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Funded by billionaire Ioan Gruffudd, master cavesman Richard Roxburgh is helming an expedition to explore a massive cave on Papua New Guinea. Roxburgh brings in his son Rhys Wakefield, who doesn't understand what the big fuss about plunging into giant holes is all about.

While underground, they're hit by a rogue cyclone. The cave floods. A boulder traps their path back. They only have one choice: to go deeper in hopes of finding a new way out.

Unless you do watch movies solely to see people get killed off (and if so, e-mail me about our newsgroup), it's fairly vital that you be made to care about the characters in danger. By "fairly vital" I of course mean "more important than actually making the movie." Sanctum's crippling flaw is that it doesn't provide a single damn for you to give about the fate of its cast.

You've got Wakefield, who as a young, strapping, Justin Bieber-ish Australian will probably be all our bosses some day, but for now is just angry with his dad for the usual boring reasons.

Gruffudd is an arrogant adrenaline junkie who really deserves a good crushing.

And his girlfriend Alice Parkinson's defining trait seems to be an interest in Wakefield that is somewhere between inappropriate and illegal. But I don't know what the age of consent laws are in Papua New Guinea, so who's to judge?

Meanwhile, Roxburgh is supposed to be the master of spelunking, and I suppose he is generally better at not getting killed than his crew of about-go-be-killed guys, but his mastery is usually expressed with such helpful, technical terms like "You have to listen to the cave" and "The cave doesn't care if you live or die. To the cave, we're just specks of dust." Paraphrased, but not much, because everything everyone says is either melodramatic or a flat cliche. Often about caves.

So the thing is, well, I wouldn't have particularly minded if that cave ended up being a mass grave. Which it did, actually. So that's cool.

The peripheral characters are a little better, and director Alister Grierson milks a lot of beauty from his caverns and underground rivers. He does good work depicting the swiftness and brutality of death beneath the surface, refusing to cut away as people drown, fall and hide among the crevices so their injuries won't slow the others down.

Sanctum could have been stirring, sober stuff. But even though co-writer Andrew Wight is a cave diving expert -- who once had to find another way out of a blocked cave himself -- the specific details of the life-and-death choices his characters face are rarely all that clear. That adds another topping of dullness to what's already a thick casserole of boredom. I got a better picture of caving from The Descent, and that movie was full of slimy, pale monsters.

Grade: C-