Sanctum was a beautiful mess


(Contains spoilers) I honestly would have liked Sanctum more if it had been a 3-D IMAX movie with trippy music and no dialog. I found the cave scenes and the 3-D effects riveting. Not so the story. The story is loosely based on a true event in a cave in Australia in 1988 in which everyone survives. Apparently for the filmmakers survival movie = lots of death and not too much survival.

Now I’m a fan of disaster and horror movies. Everyone knows at the start of the movie that out of the initial group of characters some of them are going to get killed along the way. One by one.  I wonder if Vegas runs a book on this sort of movie. Seems like there should be some sort of movie death pool where we can bet on the order and method in which characters in a movie are going to die.

The plot is that a storm floods a cave and its explorers are trapped and have to find another way out. This is the only part that is based on a true event. The story that Sanctum’s storytellers give us is so full of tired plot twists and stock characters that I had trouble taking it seriously. Cave explorer Frank is a picture of pride. He’s confident that his experience qualifies him, even obligates him to make tough calls…and only tough calls.  His goal is survival and everything and everyone not focused on that goal is expendable.

So the writers build a story around this scenario which includes that Frank and his son Josh have a troubled relationship, the cave exploration’s rich financier shows up with his girlfriend to seek some thrills, women panic, the water gets higher, a villain arises from the group, faithful friends are sacrificed on the altar of adventure and survival, and Frank becomes convinced that the only way to expedite the rescue is to sacrifice the wounded.

Survival and hopelessness are a brutal combination. Is it inconceivable that someone might get out and send help back to the injured? Is waiting it out with someone who is dying no longer considered humane? Death is presented as a foregone conclusion so that alleviating suffering or expediting death so the rest of the group can keep moving looks like the reasonable and noble choice. Survival is definitely a Darwinian affair in Sanctum.

Frank is  a poster boy for valiant acts of euthanasia. I might have bought in to the first one but three smells a little like an agenda to me, especially when the story arc, the coming of age moment for Josh is so tied to his buy-in to this philosophy. Three? Really? The first rule of Sanctum is don’t limp around Frank.

It seems a shame that Cameron worked so hard to advance 3-D technology for this. I wish the story enhanced the wonder and thrill that the cinematography offered. I loved the opportunity to see the cave. Maybe The Making of Sanctum will be better than this spelunker kerplunker (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

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