INSPIRED by true events, which were presumably far more thrilling than anything in Alister Grierson’s waterlogged film, Sanctum charts the ordeal of a group of cave divers trapped below ground during a freak storm.
In real life, all of the stricken adventurers escaped the subterranean tomb.
On the big screen, writers John Garvin and Andrew Wight prefer a much more tragic resolution, consigning most of the cast to watery graves, mistakenly believing that an increasing body count will spark dramatic tension.
Unfortunately, their script is one splashing flipper shy of campy hilarity and neither writer has a sharp ear for convincing dialogue.
So it’s a blessing that so much of the film unfolds underwater with the cast sucking hungrily on a dwindling air supply, unable to spout another clunky cliche.
In Papua New Guinea’s deadly Esa’ala cave system, expert diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) and his team, including Crazy George (Dan Wyllie) and Jude (Allison Cratchley), search for the path to the sea.
They are under pressure to deliver results and adrenaline junkie financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) arrives at the dive site with his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) to spur Frank on before a storm system forces the divers to return to the surface.
“What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?” Victoria wonders aloud, tempting grim fate.
Sure enough, the cyclone catches everyone off guard, trapping Frank, his headstrong 17-year-old-son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), Carl, Victoria and the rest of the team.
The only possible escape route is uncharted territory in the cave system, but Victoria has never dived before.
Sanctum has no substance.
The script is flimsy and the characters are all two-dimensional.
Some of the performances, most notably Gruffudd with an abominable American accent, are so wooden that you expect the cast to have trouble sinking.
In almost every respect, Sanctum should have gone straight to DVD ... except for the excellent use of state-of-the-art 3D camera technology developed by executive producer James Cameron.
Viewing the film’s strangely beautiful world through uncomfortable plastic spectacles, we truly feel submerged alongside the actors as they navigate treacherous fissures in the rock, emerging into cavernous spaces teeming with microscopic life.
Director Grierson makes excellent use of the 3D format from the striking first image of a silhouetted body floating lifelessly in a vast expanse of sea, lit by shafts of sunlight.
Visually at least, his film takes our breath away.