SANCTUM, starring Richard Roxburgh

Directed by Alister Grierson. I say this first, because it needs to be known right away that although James Cameron’s name  is on this film, it is as producer, not director, so he’s not the only one to blame, just the most recognizable name on the list of those who are.

This movie is a mess from its freaky opening scene, its bizarre second scene that looks and sounds like it came straight out of a bad 1970s television show, all the way to its awful end, punctuated by a few moments of suspense.  My overriding feeling was embarrased dread.

I was embarrassed because the script was so poorly written, the plot so wrong, the characterizations so inconsistent. I experience dread as one by one the people I sort-of knew but really did not love died off. They didn’t die on their own either.

(I am about to describe the movie’s  “fatal flaw.” That is, there are some things about a movie that can be overlooked, because after all, moviemaking is a hard business and not everyone in it is at the top of his game. Too, you can guess wrong and have your Cyclone-in-Australia film released during the week a Cyclone hit Australia. But some things are not overlookable. These are fatal flaws.)

In what is to me a “fatal flaw”—meaning because of this the movie should not be seen by anyone—“mercy killings” occur.  Injured people are “put out of their misery” by being held under water until they die.  I don’t know what they call this in Australia where this movie was made, but here we call that murder.  You don’t get a pass on this just because you’re underground , just because you’re in distress. Nor can you put it in your movie and expect me not to call you out, just in case you were wondering.

Besides the fatal flaw, there are many other problems. I’ll pick a few.

Frank (Roxburgh) is the leader of this group of cavers (never called spelunkers, by the way). He knows a storm is coming, and that it could flood the cave,  but he  decides not to come up to the surface to wait it out. No thinking person would do this, not even one who can only feel at home in this “inner sanctum” of his.  He also puts the job of delivering critical supplies into the hands of an unreliable minor child. No one would do this, especially when it is clear that supplies are regularly delivered through other means.

Nor would any thinking person (especially one who had climbed Everest and knew the risks of hypothermia) plunge into cold water for an escape dive of unknown duration without a wetsuit.  The woman who does this, Victoria, is the girlfriend (“Baby,” ad nauseum) of the billionaire who finances this particular cave venture. The wetsuit is there, it is available, but she doesn’t want to wear it and they don’t make her. Dumb. In real life, you’d tear her clothes off and put it on her. In fact, that might have spiced up the movie a little. They do later tear all her clothes off to get her warmed up after the inevitable chill sets in, and she has dressed for the moment, black lace and all. Dumb thing to wear on a cave dive, but she may be a woman of limited ideas.

A huge problem is Frank’s son Josh. Josh has to come on this outing because his father has custody of him for a month out of every year. Sure, but the kid looks like he’s 25. Again, maybe things are different down under, but here it comes across as just awkward. Nor do we hear anything about “back home,” “high school” or “my prom date,” or anything at all to let us know how old this “child” is. Strangely, this kid who supposedly only hangs out with Adventure Dad 30 days a year is the team’s best climber and can hold his breath for many long minutes under water without appearing to be in any distress whatever. I was informed on the way home that this skill is called “breathhold” diving. News to me.

The Billionaire Financier of the operation (I forget his name) is your stereotypical billionaire brat. I really don’t think anyone could become a billionaire without a lot of discipline, nor could you stay a billionaire (at least in this market) without an awful lot of savvy and forethought, something sadly lacking in the entire caving operation here. He turns into a screaming lunatic at the end, but it’s not worth waiting through the movie to get to that strange moment.

There are a few minutes at the end when the Manly Looking Son and the Man Who Can Only Understand Life Underground have a meeting of the heart. Years of mutual disgust fall away and we see what might have been. It’s short, sweet, and then there’s murder. Whatever.

The end is incredibly odd. Though we know a cyclone has just passed over, when the survivor emerges from the sea, he sees children playing and their father fishing. Seems odd if a massive storm has just passed by. As we know from this week’s news, when a cyclone hits Australia, they evacuate the coastal towns.

One other thing that caused me great distress was the casting of people of color in this movie. There are only Caucasians on the caving team, but there are a great many aboriginal-looking people up on the surface, looking for all the world like token color. One man has a bone through his nose even. None of them has any speaking lines, and they are only used to do menial hauling labor. I was disgusted. C’mon, people. Have we seriously not come any farther than this?

A mess from beginning to end. Stay home and watch Inception on DVD.

(Moral concerns: mercy killings [fatal flaw], profanity, vulgar language and  gestures, criminal negligence)

2 thoughts on “SANCTUM, starring Richard Roxburgh”

  1. Yes, my thanks as well. Plus, instead of wasting time and money, I read your clever review. Sad for the movie makers that reviews of it will be better than seeing the movie.

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