Somehow I cannot find the right words to describe Sanctum. A few hours after coming out of the screening room and I still feel trapped miles below the surface of the Earth; I still feel as if someone forced their hand down my throat clenched my stomach with their fist and didn’t let go. This is a painfully visceral movie. But I am still in awe of the sights I just experience; I just saw heaven and hell within the same movie. This is an exhilarating thrill of a movie.
It is both an effective and breathtaking (latterly and figuratively) movie. Sadly, embarrassingly bad dialogue and flat characters bring all of this crashing down nearly to B-movie levels. But you know what?
I didn’t care.
Like all man vs. nature movies the story is very straight forward: there is a group of explorers, in this case cave divers, looking to break the last boundaries known to man, in this case the deepest most complex cave system in the world; and then, just when they make a great new advancement in their expedition there is a disaster; a flash flood that traps the spelunking team inside the caves. The only way for the team to make it out alive is to follow the underground river towards the ocean. And there are a few shortcomings along the way lack of oxygen, mistrust, and death. The movie does not stray very far from formula. But since it never pretends to do so this was OK for me.
Even in the first scene of the film when you are quickly introduced to several you know almost immediately who is going to die and who is going to survive (one of my guesses was wrong but I still had 80% accuracy). The movie also doesn’t bother much with establishing the situation and the characters; within ten minutes in and your already strapped into your seatbelt tightly gripping the armrest knowing that the ride started two minutes ago. And you will not have time to catch your breath for the next two hours (once again quite literally).
It is a very effective film in that sense. This is mostly due thanks to the people involved. Writer and producer, Andrew Wight is an adventurer who once got stuck in a cave (albeit of much smaller scale) and decided to make a film about that. Teaming up with James Cameron, whose film The Abyss was also about people trapped in underwater hell, as executive producer and newcomer Alister Grierson as director, Wight was able to deliver the experience in the most effective manner. Including the choice of using of 3D.
What? 3D is actually useful here? Yes, I believe that this movie delivers the first use of 3D that was necessary. Using Cameron’s Fusion Camera System, which we saw on Avatar, Grieson was actually able to deliver the feeling that you are underwater and squeezed in tight spaces. At no point in the film is the 3D used for object to cheesily pop out towards the audience. The 3D ads depth here, it uses the foreground and background to create a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness. That could have just been a side effect of the nausea created by the chunky glasses.
However despite the technical mastery of the film there is a huge shortcoming in the cheesiness of the dialogue and the flatness of the characters. It is pretty bad and it takes you out of the movies illusion quite frequently; particularly to those who have difficulty immersing into a movie’s logic. But if you go in expecting this, it should not bother you.
When it comes down to it the people who will enjoy Sanctum are the same type of people who love roller coasters. It is a little bit masochistic; you are there for the visceral experience. A roller coaster is only exciting if there is something foreboding about it to begin with. People go to them for the thrill, much in the same way that people go see a scary movie to get frightened and a good scary movie must be fear-provoking. So, in that sense this movie delivers and I will recommend to anyone who enjoys stomach-clenching sensations. The movie is certainly not for everyone but if you are one of those who enjoy this types of films check it out next week when it comes out on theaters; you will not be disappointed.