2011, R, 109 min. Directed by Alister Grierson. Starring Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 4, 2011

Producer James Cameron's fondness for the deep, dark fissures in both man and nature takes a serious hit with this messy, atrociously written, and unevenly acted descent into a subterranean adventure that's supposedly based on "true events." I doubt very much that a crazy American billionaire with panicky murder in his eyes figured into those events, but as it turns out, Welsh-born actor Gruffudd, as the excitable Yank in question, is the most entertaining thing in Sanctum. Along with his fans, Cameron (one of six producers attached to the film) apparently recognized the similarities between Sanctum's script (penned by Andrew Wight, Cameron's producer on Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep) and his own deep-diving melodrama, The Abyss. But Sanctum, which follows spelunker Frank (Roxburgh, fittingly flinty), his estranged rock-climbing offspring Josh (Wakefield), and a handful of other unfortunates as they rappel down into a huge cave in remote Papua New Guinea and then become trapped by storm runoff, is no Abyss. Those audiences who have complained about the clunky exposition and mawkish emotional dialogue in Cameron's films will discover the "King of the World"'s own dramatic talents to be on par with the Bard in comparison to the shouty, over-emoted hokum on display here. Not everything here is awful, though. Cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin acquits himself more than admirably. Much of Sanctum was filmed underwater without benefit of CGI, which is still a difficult, dangerous, and time-comsuming proposition 22 years after Cameron revolutionized water-soaked drama with The Abyss, and O'Loughlin makes the most of the claustrophobic caving sequences. There's also Roxburgh's gritty turn as a team leader who must make life-and-death (and -death, and -death) decisions at every freakishly hairpin turn. Unfortunately, what might have been a perfectly acceptable 2-D movie was instead upgraded to unnecessary 3-D, which leaves the images looking dark when the action is underwater and curiously washed-out when it's not. Sanctum serves as little more than a reminder that, yeah, Cameron's own scripts might not be the stuff of legend, but his overall filmmaking abilities surely are.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Richard Roxburgh Films
Australian surfer dudes come of age in this literary adaptation.

Steve Davis, June 15, 2018

Hacksaw Ridge
A pacifist goes to war in Mel Gibson's brutal film

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 4, 2016

More by Marc Savlov
The Twentieth Century
Suitably bonkers Canadian surrealist comedy rewrites history

Nov. 27, 2020

Jiu Jitsu
No jiu jitsu, and not enough Nic Cage in this Predator rip-off

Nov. 20, 2020


Sanctum, Alister Grierson, Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle