Movie Review: Sanctum

“Sanctum” on IMDB

Adventure, 108 Minutes, 2011

Yet another excellently made Australian movie.  (I won’t go into, yet again, how impressed I’ve been by Australian productions lately.)  Sure, it’s an “anthem” movie – in this case to caving (as an aside, when did we stop calling it “spelunking”?  I liked “Spelunking”!) and underground diving.  As you might expect this activity is incredibly specialized and incredibly dangerous and the movie does an excellent job of relating it meaningfully to the audience.

The underwater sequences are beautiful and dramatically impart the closeness and lethality of the environment.  It’s made very clear how sharp of a razor’s edge these people walk.  The movie also brings us close to understanding the reasons people do this; the almost religious thrill of reaching a space never inhabited before.  Sure, the script is a little wooden and the cast a little stereotypical but the environment is the real star and it shines.

My only real gripe with the film is that it’s fundamentally based on a “kick the map moment”.  This is what I call those moments when our characters make some insanely stupid decision that all but ensures their doom.  I coined it from the scene in “The Blair Witch Project” [IMDB] when Mike admits that “I kicked the map into the creek!”  From that point on it’s much harder to truly care about the characters because they seemed to have stopped caring about themselves.

In this case all the problems start because these incredibly experienced, highly regarded explorers ignore the fact that a tropical storm will very shortly flood their underground base camp.  They then, even more stupidly, ignore a communication outage that would have allowed the surface camp to let them know the storm had come in quicker and stronger than predicted.  When it does flood them out they’re caught ill-equipped and unready to make a desperate escape attempt through an uncharted part of the cave system.  It’s sad that a simple cave-in could have driven the same events without compromising our characters.

The only other negative thing I have to say is that this starts with “based on true events” which is, to put it mildly, bullshit.  Really, look it up.  The real story occurred in a completely different cave system, there were no amateur personal and due to an organized rescue party everybody survived.  This is a wonderfully shot survival film in a novel location that really conveys the danger and allure of caving, but “true” it ain’t.


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