Dive Film Review: Sanctum (2011)
Tight spaces and conflict as cave dive goes wrong
Sanctum is a 2011 adventure thriller directed by Alister Grierson and produced by James Cameron.
It is based on a script by Andrew Wright, who was inspired to write it when he participated in a cave dive trip at Nullarbor Plains in Australia, where the entrance collapsed as a result of a freak storm.
The film follows an expedition to explore a massive cave system in Papua New Guinea, lead by experienced cave diver Frank McGuire. An early tragedy puts the team on edge, but they press on with the exploration nonetheless.
When a massive storm hits, the exploration team, including Frank’s estranged son Josh, are all trapped inside the cave at their forward base. With hope of rescue in time being thin, the team, its financial backer and his girlfriend, who are both inexperienced with cave diving, decide to attempt to make it through the cave system in hopes of finding an exit on the other side.
Watch the Official Movie Trailer.
From here on in, drama ensues, in form of claustrophobic dives, harrowing rappels, and personal conflict between Josh and Frank, and the backer, Carl. Along the way, Josh learns more about his father and what drives him, and finds out that through his sometimes brusque ways, Frank has prepped Josh well for handling the emergencies that can occur in cave exploration.
The film is extremely well filmed, and features a number of underwater scenes that are among the best in the movie industry. Working with underwater sequences is never easy, and working with underwater sequences in enclosed spaces is only that much the harder. But the film deserves kudos for its cinematography in this respect.
Sanctum borrows heavily from the disaster film genre, and to some extent is marred by the clichés of that genre. From the strained personal relationships to the dubious money man, there are several elements that have been seen enough times that they fail to surprise. And the character depth doesn’t exactly match the depth of the dives in the film. In that respect, it is somewhat of an action yarn, but an entertaining one, definitely.
Enactment of Scuba Diving
The diving in the film is depicted fairly well. Of course, there are numerous instances where what you’d consider safe cave diving practices are quite severely ignored, or where risks and consequences are exaggerated for dramatic purposes.
I do appreciate the fact that the mandatory tragic accident that opens up the drama and makes the protagonist doubt himself is caused by diver panic rather than by an equipment fault.
This means the film avoids the Cliffhanger situation, where a climbing harness spontaneously and quite inexplicably disintegrates. Having panic be the killer in this case is more in line with actual accident statistics.
And, tragically, the very actor playing this scene in the film died later in an accident that was eerily similar to the one depicted.
Overall, the film is entertaining and very well made. The storyline isn’t terribly original, but if you can ignore that, it makes for a good film to watch on your next dive trip.
However, you might want to consider not showing it to any worried, non-diving family members, in particular if you’re going to do any cave diving.