Frank MacGuire is a cave diver extraordinaire. With his estranged son Josh in tow, he and his team are trapped by a storm while exploring a giant cave. The only chance at escape is to dive deeper into the cave and find a way out. Can they do the impossible and find this previously unknown escape route before it’s too late? Find out in… Sanctum.
How?! Josh is just a moody teen spending all his time exploring a dumb cave with his dumb dad like a dumbo. Whatever. When the financier of the project shows up to check out the project he is greeted with some good and bad news. The good is that they discovered a new route through the cave system. The bad is that one of the explorers died. Oops. Even worse, a major storm descends on the area and they are all trapped in the cave with no escape route. Uh oh! Lucky they just found that new route. How convenient. Despite the danger of having a number of inexperienced divers in the crew, they are able to make it through the new tunnel without issue… you know except that one of the guys gets the bends and dies… and another one false into a giant hole in the ground and is killed… and the financier is a giant asshole and steals all their supplies and runs off cause he sucks. Not great. While Josh and his dad contemplate their lack of hope they notice some bat guano and are like wait a second. Following the guano they find an opening to the outside, but aren’t able to use it to escape. Instead they are able to find a new route into the cave system and stumble upon the financier (still a dick). He obviously sucks but still are going to help him… that is until he tackles the dad and mortally injures him. Distraught the financier makes one last effort to get to the surface without oxygen and dies. Josh is forced to put his own father out of his misery (not ideal) and then using the last of the oxygen and inspired by his dad he is just able to make it to the surface where he is rescued. When asked where his dad is Josh simply answers “Who? Never heard of him” (OK maybe not that last part). THE END.
Why?! Truly a story of survival. Everyone wants to survive and on one side you have the financier, who is super selfish about it, and on the other you have Josh and his dad who work together and never give up. Even though his dad is a bit of an asshole, Josh comes to realize that under that tough exterior is still an asshole, but an asshole that will probably save your life.
Who?! Dedicated to the memory of Wes Skiles, who was a cave explorer and filmmaker. Seems like James Cameron knew him. He died while filming on a dive off Florida around the time that this film was being made, although it doesn’t seem like he was actually involved in the making of this film.
What?! There is probably a whole bunch of great product placement in the film, but it’s all for super great cave diving equipment or something so I didn’t notice. We do probably have to address the Deus Ex Machina in the film. There seemed to be two examples. The first is the random discovery of bat guano to lead them to a new escape route right after they sat down and were like “welp I guess we now die.” However, what this film was probably cited for was the ending where Josh seems to run out of oxygen and die… until his dead dad speaks to him and he opens his eyes and swims to the surface. It’s actually a little confusing what even happened at that point other than him simply deciding not to die.
Where?! Intertitles are used to show explicitly that we are in Papua New Guinea for some reason. Weird that they even decided to make up the cave they were diving. I guess they needed a place where it could be possible that a previously undiscovered cave would reside and Papua New Guinea could be such a place I guess… before satellites. I think this is probably a B+.
When?! I presume this takes place in the summer since Josh is a teenager and seems to be on vacation from school to spend time with his dad. The interesting question is whether that means it’s sometime in January or something given the difference in school years for Australia. My guess is December or January given that there is also a Typhoon hitting Papua New Guinea at the time… unless I missed an obvious date. D.
It’s not that bad! It’s not that bad! Dare I even say it’s slightly better than merely not that bad? I mean… I kinda liked this movie. The film is small and so has some hiccups when it comes to acting and some of the visual effects. It also was a pretty simple narrative construction as a group sets out for survival and yet are somehow picked off one-by-one as if the cave is a serial killer (spoiler alert: it’s not (note to self: movie about a serial killer that is literally a cave… perhaps involving dark magic… we’ll workshop it)). But overall I really did enjoy the claustrophobia and the story of survival that is laid out in a visually pleasing way. It’s unique and kinda goes back to what was more common in the past for film: showing you things you won’t ever get to see. I will never dive into a cave, but I feel like this gave me a feeling of what that might be with a tense survival narrative to boot. Even though James Cameron doesn’t seem like he was super involved, you could still see why he was approached about this and decided to help make it happen. Very interesting. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Prior to watching Sanctum this week I had zero interest in cave diving. Afterwards I developed zero interest in watching movies about cave diving. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – I didn’t really know anything about this film prior to watching it beyond that it was set in Papua New Guinea. Making the preview it made sense that it was a James Cameron produced film. It shouldn’t be surprising, but I was a bit surprised it got dunked on so thoroughly given that cred it had in the underwater filmmaking world. But it seemed like people thought the acting and sets were underwhelming which seems maybe fair. What were my expectations? I expected it to just be terrible acting is dumb looking caves with a bunch of tensionless trash. It just seems like how films like this go.
The Good – Uh wait … is this movie good? Like … is this the first true blue It’s-Not-That-Bad in a long time? I think so. The first half hour gives you a death which shocks you into realizing just how dangerous the task at hand is. The tension throughout the film is intense. The underwater filmmaking and stunts are incredible. And why is it that anyone really needed anything else? I don’t know. I know I felt claustrophobic and tense throughout the film and that it provided me with one or two great views that you really don’t see anywhere else in film. And that’s cool.
The Bad – The acting is bad and on occasion the sets look a bit off. In the case of the first whatever, they drew in some local Australian actors who could do the job and did it. Brad Pitt ain’t gonna be in a cave diving movie merely produced by James Cameron. As for the second, it is unavoidable really. My guess is actual caves look like shit too if you tried to film in them, so having caves that look awesome will immediately feel a bit off. Other than that the story beats are a bit rote, with everyone kind of waiting in line to die. The inevitability of the billionaire being a terrible person was also a bit annoying. I kind of wish the twist would have been all three getting to the end and the father realizing that only two were going to get out. And then the father being like “take care of my boy” and the billionaire getting out and them cutting to a news clip of him announcing the new cave system as being named after Josh’s father … unfortunately you lose the entire dramatic arc of the last act with the billionaire going crazy, so that doesn’t really work narratively. Just annoying that it ended up being so cliche.
The BMT – Definitely an interesting It’s-Not-That-Bad film. A film that maybe got smashed by critics because of the 3D and an unclear reason for being. I liked it though, and it further convinced me to never ever go into caves. So there we go, it’s doing a service to me not dying in a cave. Did it meet my expectations? I mean the acting was at times bad, and the caves did something look off, but it had the tension up the wazoo! So from a bad movie perspective it didn’t meet my expectations, but I ended up liking the film, so from that perspective it was a success.
Roast-radamus – Definitely a great Setting as a Character (Where?) with Papua New Guinea and the Esa’ala Cave in particular, although they took a ton of creative liberty concerning the cave itself. I think I’ll give a little shoutout for Worst Twist (How?) for the billionaire coming back to basically specifically kill Josh’s father and then wander off to die himself. So obvious that I would have been annoyed if they didn’t do it. And this will definitely be in the running for Good as well.
StreetCreditReport.com – There aren’t too many lists where this shows up, possibly it just got ignored (but also 2011 was a solid year for bad movies including Jack and Jill). I think this is by far the worst reviewed major cave diving film. This is definitely the worst film set in Papua New Guinea (and as such we were going to inevitably watch it eventually). And I think the cred comes from the 3D and James Cameron being involved as well. I’m happy with the cred in the end.
You Just Got Schooled – Sanctum didn’t have very many famous names attached to it, so there was no path to self-improvement there. But, caving made me think of a horror film I had never seen which is considered something of a modern classic: The Descent. Directed by Neil Marshall (who directed the BMT film Hellboy) it involves a group of six women who venture into a cave, get stuck, and then are systematically hunted by a race of underground humanoid creatures. First, amazing creature design, a rare design which looks great in the dark and light and benefits from the Jaws/Alien strategy of limiting their view early on. Second, great cast with enough people to get some good kills going. And third, I liked how all of the heroes almost immediately recognized and adapted to the dangers around them, that was a cool change from mostly inept horror protagonists. On the downside I thought the first third without the monsters was more tense than the back half with the monsters. I will say, it was shocking how many beats Sanctum and The Descent shared … I’m actually a bit suspicious that the Sanctum writers (inexperienced in constructing a screenplay presumably) might have lifted a few things from The Descent which would have been popular in cave exploration circles. In both cases people are trapped by a cave and need to go deeper to try and get out. Both have a big climbing scene midway through. And both play off of what appears to be a classic caving mantra: if you panic, you die. I was a bit shocked and how both films had a very similar “calm down, if you panic you’ll die” scene early on. Easily a B+. I think if the back half had more stressful climbing bits it would have been a solid A. Basically, combine Sanctum and The Descent and you are gold.