A team of underwater cave divers is on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth - the Esa-ala Caves of New Guinea.
Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific's wonder for months. But when a tropical storm forces them deeper into the caves, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an escape route to the sea. Frank's team, including 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffud), are forced to radically alter plans. Soon, they are confronted with the unavoidable question: can any of them survive, or will they be trapped forever?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Fact based adventure thrillers rely on the visceral danger we know to be real which involves the audience; recent films like North Face, 127 Hours and Touching the Void come to mind. Sanctum has an element of all of these, inspired by real events - as experienced by writer/producer and experienced caver Andrew Wright in the Nullarbor. Wright's connection to James Cameron is their joint work road testing and honing 3D technology on the documentaries Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss, which they co-produced.
The technology used on Avatar is also harnessed in Sanctum, and with that backstory, Sanctum can be seen as a unique collaboration to push the cinematic envelope with 3D technology.
In this, the film is a great success. Shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland and in caves in South Australia, as well as at the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast, the film looks fabulously authentic in every way. The landscape and the giant cave mouth, the underwater work and the dramatic flooding are superbly realised, enough to hold our attention.
Director Alistair Grierson, who made his eye catching debut with Kokoda (2006), handles the material with assured style and conviction. It's commercial filmmaking with creative sensibilities.
Richard Roxburgh is one of Australia's most gifted actors, and he makes the most of role totally out of his comfort zone as an obsessed caver with a son to whom his connection is almost nonexistent. This is the primary subplot and texture of the otherwise simplistic 'will they escape' scenario. It's not really a plot. But the stunts are so well done, the dramatic loss of life so effectively and emotionally presented that we can't really quibble.
Rhys Wakefield is also outstanding as Frank's 17 year old son, Josh, who doesn't get to understand his father until it's too late - and the two of them carry the film. Dan Wyllie provides excellent support as George, Frank's right hand man, building up a strong bond with the audience that has its payoff in a crucial dramatic sequence.
David Hirschfelder's score expands the film beautifully, with plenty of cues (but never overdone) and great sensitivity when required; it lifts the tone and the emotional weight of the film to the pitch the filmmakers aim for.
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SANCTUM 3D (M)
CAST: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffud, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs
PRODUCER: James Cameron, Ben Browning, Ryan Kavanaugh, Michael Maher, Peter Rawlinson, Andrew Wright
DIRECTOR: Alister Grierson
SCRIPT: John Garvin, Andrew Wright
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jules O'Loughlin
EDITOR: Mark Warner
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nicholas McCallum
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 3, 2011