Film review by: Witney Seibold

Let me start this review with a digression.


Too many films these days are being released in 3-D. I want to state right away that I have no real problems with 3-D as a gimmick, and I admire the films that can use the trick to their advantage. When “Step Up 3D” is released, the third dimension adds to the featherweight conceits of the film. When “Piranha 3D” is released, it’s generally smart about shoving cheap mayhem in your face. I look forward to films like “Drive Angry,” which are clearly using the gimmick for gimmicky reasons. It’s when a film is cynically retrofitted after the fact that I – and most audiences – take exception. I’m sure that “The Green Hornet,” to pick a recent example, is no better for having been converted to 3-D, and is, quite possibly worse.


3-D is a tricky thing to pull off, and so few films do it correctly. The editing and shooting must be handled differently than a traditional 2-D film. In 2-D film, coverage is (traditionally) handled by showing an open space in an establishing shot, then editing closer and closer shots within the scene. In 3-D, our perspective is slightly different, as our eyes are refocused on the illusion. The 3-D effect would be enhanced without editing, and only showing establishing shots. 2-D likes to show the illusion of depth by placing things in the extreme foreground of the action. In 3-D, this effect only serves to have weird shapeless masses suddenly cram up close to your eyeballs.


Alister Grierson may have shot his film “Sanctum” in 3-D, but he, sadly, sticks to old 2-D filmmaking rules, making for a (sadly) typical 3-D film experience; one that is murky, unclear a lot of the time, and frustratingly ugly to look at.


Vote with your dollar. Only see a film in 3-D if you hear the effect will be enhanced. Only see films shot in 3-D and not the retrofitted ones that will cost more. Pay for the 2-D screenings, and let the studios know what you’re interested in. Maybe they’ll stop doing it after a while.


Also, if you must see a film in 3-D, and the effect gives you a headache (as it does with so many viewers), do the following: take two pairs of glasses into the theater with you. Using a Swiss Army knife, remove the left lens from one pair of glasses, and the right lens from the other. Affix the opposing lenses to both pairs of glasses, making for one pair with two right lenses, and another with two left lenses. This way, you can filter out the double image, but still avoid the distracting 3-D effect. Try it! It works!

All of this may be a roundabout way of getting to “Sanctum,” but the 3-D is a distracting effect for the film. I’m also sad to report that it’s not the worst problem with the film, as it’s actually a dull, clichéd and tepid thriller, lined with the most rudimentary stock characters, all declaratively pronouncing dialogue so predictable and obnoxious that it could come from a 1930s serial. It’s an impressively located, badly presented cave-bound thriller of stultifying effect.


The film follows a hardworking professional spelunker named Frank (Richard Roxburgh), as he meets up with his estranged son (played by the hunky Aussie Aryan youth Rhys Wakefield) for the summer. In tow are a slick-talking banker type (Ioan Gruffudd), and his foxy mountainclimbing girlfriend (Alice Parkinson). They are in a deep, deep cave in Papua New Guinea, and this cave is the deepest the world has ever seen. It’s largely unexplored. Son hates Pops for always spiriting off to explore caves. Pops is a hardworking and practical guy. Moneyman is a douche, and girlfriend is extra baggage.

There are other characters in the film as well, but they’re all interchangeable background characters, who use portentous shop talk, and speak of a coming deluge that may seal them in the cave. In one cute scene, one of the characters proudly displays a computer model he has made of the interior of the cave, complete with lakes, air-refill stops, camps, and, most amusing, a wizard. For one brief instant, the film has some personality. In another kind of offensive scene, the one non-white character is mercy-drowned by the white man he helped to rescue.


The deluge does indeed strike, the opening to the cave is sealed, and our heroes must explore through an uncharted grotto to find a way out. Frank is convinced there’s a way out, but the other are skeptical. Frank also is smart enough to scavenge supplies from their fallen comrades, and this followers object. Am I weird in that I was on the side of the smart, forward-thinking, well-prepared, experienced character? Why did are all the others so eager to reject his help? Is Frank that much of a jerk?

They all face predictable challenges along the way; meat-grindin’ whirlpools, chilling water, tight squeezes, the danger of brain bubbles from surfacing too quickly. The setting is impressive, and some of the set-pieces are exciting. Sadly, it’s not because we’re attached to any of the characters. It’s only because things are tense.


Had “Sanctum” pushed the envelope of good tatse a little more, it may have become something luridly enjoyable. Had a rogue character resorted to cannibalism, or if an abandoned tank had been resurrected, or even if there were cave creatures, at least then it would have evolved into something clunky and cheesy and fun. Sadly, it stays within the lines, and never approaches anything enjoyable. By the time the surviving character(s) make(s) it out, we don’t care.


You want a good cave movie? Watch “The Descent.”

Published in: on February 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Sanctum « Three Cheers for Darkened Years! […]

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