I went to Sanctum today. Not just Sanctum, but Sanctum 3D IMAX. And not just Sanctum 3D IMAX, but Sanctum 3D IMAX at a normal movie theater, which means it's Sanctum 3D FAKE IMAX. In other words, I paid $17.50 per ticket, which considering I paid for my parents means $52.50, to see a movie that was more likely to be bad than good.
From executive producer James Cameron, a name ominously stamped to every facet of the film's marketing campaign, Sanctum is a thriller about cave divers who become trapped and are forced to find another way out through an unexplored cave system. The movie is roughly based on a true experience by co-writer Andrew Wright.
James Cameron's stamp of approval comes from the use of his 3D cameras - the same ones used to film Avatar - which just goes to prove that the technology is less important than the filmmakers involved. Sanctum, unfortunately, feels like a movie made by first-time filmmakers, which isn't too far from the truth.
The first 20 minutes are spent with the characters who will inevitably become trapped deep underground. Neither the writing nor acting is very good, however, so there's a lot of painful dialogue and forced arguments. Interestingly, one thing that would have helped Sanctum was more character development in these early scenes.
Once Sanctum goes deep, however, the movie picks up as the dialogue becomes less important. The picture quickly becomes a survival tale and never lets up once it does. Not for the faint of heart or claustrophobics, Sanctum turns out to be a surprisingly entertaining thriller.
Though it lacks the build up to action sequences or that one scene that just hooks onto you, Sanctum is appealing in its own way. It feels raw, and even though a more polished, experienced director could have done more with it, it's hard not to become engrossed once Sanctum starts moving.
The situations seem real more often than not, so even though the screenplay isn't great, the cave sequences never feel fictitious. It's only when the movie tries to impose human conflict that Sanctum struggles to connect with its audience.
Sanctum could have been better. More developed characters would have made us feel more for the people who lose their lives throughout the film. A better director could have amplified the action. The screenplay needed to be reworked. But for what it is - a movie about people trying to escape from a flooding cave - it delivers.
Just don't see it in 3D. Or at IMAX. I only did so because it was the only convenient showing. Sanctum isn't worth $17.50, but it is worth the matinee price. And if not that, it's at least worth watching on DVD in a few months' time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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