Sanctum movie review

Feb 4, 2011 at 6:42 p.m. ET

Sanctum is being hyped as the next film to push the 3D boundaries of filmmaking. In that, the James Cameron-produced Sanctum succeeds without a doubt. As a matter of fact, in the opening moments of the film, the effects are so real, it is impossible not to feel you are "in" the film on a physiological level.

Largely, the story behind Sanctum is true. The script was compiled using various underwater cave divers and their near-death experiences.

Specifically, Andrew Wight's story lies at the center of Sanctum. James Cameron's producing partner found himself trapped in underwater caves after a storm had caused their entrance-exit to close. Such is how the thrills in Sanctum start.

Sanctum from executive producer James Cameron

James Cameron is executive producer and his handprints are all over the film complete with his Titanic-Avatar way of introducing characters in the first act. We meet each member of the crew rather quickly as they descend on a Papua New Guinea cave billed as one of the "last places on earth to explore."

Rhys Wakefield in Sanctum

Leading the expedition is Frank, played with stern steel by Australian Richard Roxburgh. It is established that he and his son have less than a cordial relationship. This journey beneath the water's surface into the depths of undiscovered caves is to serve as their chance at commencing an adult relationship.

Rhys Wakefield, also a fellow Aussie, plays Frank's son Josh. Wakefield commands the screen and seeing him go toe-to-toe with the powerful Roxburgh serves as the birth of a star in the making.

The diving team, led by the world's leader in cave diving, Frank, has a clear mission: To map out the interiors of the deep sea caves and to witness what no other human has ever seen before. As all the players arrive on the scene, the threat of a cyclone remains eminent. When the team readies to go on their latest dive into the darkness, the storm hits. Their exit is blocked and their only option for survival is to go deeper into the caves to find another way out.

Although Cameron's style is all over Sanctum, this is truly director Alister Grierson's film. Sanctum is only the Australian (sense a theme here?) helmer's second film. To think that he tackled the complexity of filming in 3D, shooting in the most extreme and tight environments is impressive. It is up to Grierson, in many ways, to make the film live and breathe. He succeeds under the watchful guidance of Cameron.

Sanctum cave diving

Sanctum reminds us of Cameron's Abyss where the silence of the underwater world can almost be more terrifying in its ability to bring death to life. Grierson uses music sparingly and relies on his actors, pitted against the most demanding of perils, to carry the film. His cast does their part in making Sanctum feel as dangerous, thrilling and exhilarating as a real-life cave diving experience.

What we are left with at the end of Sanctum is a lesson about how the choices we make in life -- whether how to crawl through a two-foot cave or who we choose to believe in and trust with our lives -- are what ultimately seal our fate.

The problems with Sanctum are that in spots the dialogue is simplistic and the character development is almost see-through in the sense that the audience can guess who will make it and who won't at the end of the film. That being said, Sanctum isn't predictable.

As the tiniest corners of the world are discovered for the first time, so too is the audience given the joy of discovery of what it means to be a cave diver. What is around the next corner is as much of a mystery to the characters as it is to the audience witnessing their voyage.

Sanctum is above all else a father and son film. With Roxburgh and Wakefield inhabiting these roles, it is a joy to see the two men come to grips with what separates them and what also binds them together while fighting for survival. We look forward to seeing much more from the young Wakefield and as always, Roxburgh is stellar.

Richard Foxborough and Rhys Wakefield in Sanctum

What else emerges after witnessing Sanctum is how in the hands of James Cameron, 3D is done right. After so many films have essentially wasted the technology, it is refreshing to see the man who made the technology what it is on Avatar further push the 3D envelope.

Check out the Sanctum trailer!

Sanctum movie review

Out of five stars...