Many movies about people trapped in dangerous locations focus on their plans to escape. “Daylight” focused on a group of people who were trying to escape a tunnel that collapsed. “The Towering Inferno” focused on a group who were trying to escape a fire in an office building. “Sanctum,” on the other hand, focuses on people who are trying to escape but are overtly willing to give up their lives if they become injured. As depressing as that may sound, the reasons to give up on life are at the cornerstone of this story as multiple characters choose to die quickly rather than keep fighting to survive.
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The story revolves around a group of divers who are exploring an underground cave. Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is the acclaimed leader of the exploration who enjoys finding new worlds underwater. Josh (Rhys Wakefield) is his estranged son who doesn’t understand his father. He rebels against his father and his father’s great expecatations of him. The father and son are joined in the cave by an easily forgettable supporting cast that includes Ioan Grufffurd as a financial supporter of the trip.
Once the crew starts exploring the cave and diving into the depths of its underwater tunnels, a torrential rainstorm begins flooding the cave. In their search for an escape route, the team must hunt for a way out as their oxygen depletes and the water continues to pour in. As hope fades, the situation becomes more dire and and the crew becomes more distressed, searching for a way out.
According to Dictionary.com, “Sanctum” itself means “a sacred or holy place” or “an inviolably private place or retreat.” However, there’s little room for faith in this story about death and despair. “There’s no God down here,” Frank even says at one point. This story isn’t about faith and hope. It’s about fate and the utter hopelessness that can come with it.
Admittedly, the visual effects in this story are wonderful to look at. “Sanctum” uses its 3D effects well, often filling the screen with glimpses of the beautiful water that the crew must dive into.
However, the effects can’t overcome the story’s focus on pain and suffering without any sense of redemption or renewal. The film was executive produced by James Cameron, who previously directed “Titanic” and “Avatar.” This story continues a trend in his films of capturing the battle of man versus nature. In “Titanic,” man battled with the ocean when the ship crashed into an iceberg. In “Avatar,” man battled to “steal” a planet’s resources and was defeated by the natives, who were themselves close to nature. In “Sanctum,” man finds pleasure in exploring nature but ultimately faces its wrath. Interestingly enough, several of the characters in the story choose immediate death, instead of letting “nature” itself take its course. If the lessons of some of Cameron’s films is that man should be more supportive of nature itself, shouldn’t assisted suicide be rejected outright because it goes against natural life and death?
Questions like that aren’t posed in this story which, more often than not, chooses death over life. The term sanctum may refer to a holy place, but this new film is about a graveyard filled with people who give up, a graveyard that would be a great resting place for a clunker like this.