February 4, 2011 in Features

‘Sanctum’ offers no escape from bad writing

Moira Macdonald Seattle Times
 

“I am not wearing the wet suit of a dead person!” thunders a character in the 3-D underwater adventure “Sanctum,” and all you can think as an audience member is a) well, at least that’s a line I’ve never heard before, b) said character is doomed, and c) Wet Suits of the Dead would be a good name for a band.

As the movie drags on, and more characters are revealed to be doomed, “Sanctum” emerges as one big advertisement for staying home – away from underwater caves, and away from the multiplexes.

Essentially, what happens in the film is that a large group of fairly interchangeable and personality-free folk (except for one cranky older fellow named Frank, played by Richard Roxburgh, who has enough personality for all of them) head down deep to explore a mysterious underwater cave labyrinth off the coast of Australia.

Trouble ensues when a sudden storm blocks their exit route and they must, with limited supplies, find another way out. (According to the press kit, this is exactly what happened to the movie’s co-writer and producer Andrew Wight – hence the movie’s “based on a true story” tag – except that everyone on Wight’s expedition escaped safely.)

The hapless crew of “Sanctum” isn’t so lucky – or maybe they are, as many of the actors get to exit the movie early. Those in the audience must endure nearly two hours trapped in The Cave of Bad Screenwriting, complete with perky announcements of “This cave’s not going to beat me!”; characters who elaborately explain things for the benefit of the audience; and a villain who mysteriously seems to turn into some sort of peevish sea monster.

All of this is captured in live-action 3-D (“Avatar” director James Cameron is an executive producer) that’s at times effective but often, particularly in the underwater scenes, doesn’t add much, except to the ticket price.

There’s no real story here, just a series of gruesome yet weirdly casual deaths, taking place in what looks like the inside of a very big stomach.

“Sanctum” is entertaining only as a darkly comic game of guessing the order in which the characters will exit (it’s easy), or noting that awful things always seem to happen right after a character has said “Are you OK?” or mentioned a nice cup of hot tea.

Otherwise, it’s overwhelmingly dull, which the real-life expedition surely wasn’t.

“Trust the cave,” says someone, near the end. No, thanks.


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