Cave thriller Sanctum takes place thousands of feet underground — and belongs there 



When the words "Inspired by a True Story" flash before a movie, it's usually a dead giveaway that the actual story couldn't pick itself out of a police lineup once the movie's done with it. Not only that, but the story will still be more interesting than the movie. Sanctum, which came in a distant second behind brazen Single White Female ripoff The Roommate at the box office this weekend, is the latest film that tries to Hollywood up some event from a person's life but instead dulls it all to hell.

Pointlessly shot in 3-D — at least two dimensions more than anything onscreen deserves — Sanctum uses a near-death experience that co-writer/Australian ocean explorer Andrew Wight once endured as the jumping-off point for a disaster movie. Two decades ago, Wight and 14 others were trapped in a remote underwater cave system in Australia during a storm. Everyone survived, but where's the danger and excitement in that?

So Sanctum ratchets up the bleak suspense as a predominantly Aussie cave-exploration crew gets trapped deep, deep, deep in an underwater Papua, New Guinea, cave, the same way Wight and his crew did. The most recognizable face belongs to Fantastic Four Welshman Ioan Gruffudd, whose American accent and cocky persona suggest that his character will most likely do some sheisty shit before the movie's over. People eventually get picked off in unfortunate ways, including drowning (of course) and suicide (both self-inflicted and assisted).

But you likely won't give enough of a damn about them to mourn their demise — not with Alister Grierson's dim direction putting the "lunk" in spelunking. With James Cameron serving as executive producer and 3-D fairy godfather (the movie uses the same cameras used in Avatar, which is the closest thing it has to a selling point), Sanctum proudly indulges in the same checklist of components — cliched narrative, one-note characters, inane dialogue — that Cameron wedges into his movies as packing peanuts around his expensive CGI effects. The movie is really a lame family-bonding drama between the crew's hard-ass expedition leader (Richard Roxburgh) and his sulking son (Rhys Wakefield). The minute you see them butting heads, barking at each other contemptuously, you just know they will eventually learn to understand — nay, love — each other before the end credits roll. You'll never wish more for a few loose stalactites.

Sadly, much like what happens in the film, Sanctum sends audiences on a deep slog into a painful descent, leaving only the hope that a light is waiting somewhere near the end. There is, and it's called an exit sign.



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