dir Alister Grierson
scr John Garvin, Andrew Wight
prd Ben Browning, James Cameron, Ryan Kavanaugh, Michael Maher, Andrew Wight
with Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Nicole Downs, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin, Sean Dennehy
release Aus/UK/US 4.Feb.11
11/Australia Universal 1h49
Daddy issues: Roxburgh and Wakefield

gruffudd parkinson cameron
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Sanctum Inspired by a true story and executive produced by underwater-film fanatic James Cameron, this cave-diving thriller has a lot going for it, thanks to a strong cast and high production values. But the script fails to make anything of the premise.

Fit young Aussie Josh (Wakefield) travels to a remote cave in Papua New Guinea with American financier-adventurer Carl (Gruffudd) and his girlfriend (Parkinson). There they join a team, already deep underground, led by Josh's hard-man dad Frank (Roxburgh). Having just discovered a massive new water-filled chamber, everyone's shocked by the accidental death of a team member (Cratchley). And then a tropical storm descends, flooding their base camp and forcing the spelunkers deeper underground in search of another way out. But the already strained team finds it difficult to work together.

The story is packed with possibilities, especially as the film moves from one outrageous set piece to the next. Director Grierson and his plucky cast really go for it, creating a believably terrifying environment and situations that seem utterly impossible to survive. The physicality of the film is sometimes breathtaking, and the actors all get a chance to flex their muscles along with their acting chops.

The problem is that the dramatic scenes strain the film badly. The whole father-son dynamic might be well-played by Roxburgh and Wakefield, but it's so corny that we never engage with it for a second. And the tension between Frank and Carl isn't helped by Gruffudd's oddly flat American accent or thinly drawn character. Clearly, the screenwriters felt that the story needed a human villain to add some tension, but they fail to make this one believable simply because he's so relentlessly simplistic.

And then there's the problem of the structure, which progresses like a slasher movie as the evil cave kills team members one by one. This leaves us unable to sympathise with anything that's happening, since it's all being so clearly controlled by a writer. We just sit back and enjoy the gorgeous island scenery and amazing underground caverns, although the 3D is never used to its full effect. But by the time the emotional climax comes, we just don't believe it.

cert 15 themes language, violence 27.Jan.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall