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Review of the cave diving movie 'Sanctum'

Written by Agnes Milowka   
Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:00

Sanctum MovieIt is tremendously difficult to objectively review a movie if you were in any way involved in its creation. In this case it is doubly difficult as I aim to review 'Sanctum,' the movie intimately linked with the greatest of filmmakers - James Cameron. Still, I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, so I'll give it a shot. Although I might have to be more wordy than simply proclaiming it as 'good', as I initially did.

After I saw the preview of the 'Sanctum' movie my family and friends hailed a thousand questions at me, including the ultimate question 'So… how was it?' My first reaction was a bit lame, I proclaimed it as 'good'… and as an afterthought I added 'it was very full on.' All this, while true, hardly gives the movie justice. So let me expand a little now that I've had a bit of time to digest what I saw.

In case you have been on another planet 'Sanctum' is a movie about cave divers, what it takes to explore cave systems deep beneath the earth and what happens when it all goes terribly wrong. It is not difficult to imagine why someone would want to make a movie about cave diving. Inside a cave system the line between life and death is a fine one, which naturally makes for thrilling adventure or in this case a thriller of a movie.

'Sanctum' flies by at a phenomenal speed and it is non-stop action all the way through. There is hardly enough time to relax and take in a breath between all the action and the drama. The movie delivers the kind of energy and shots of adrenalin that is fitting when telling a story about one of the most exciting and extreme disciplines in the world - cave exploration. Yet, to its credit the actual essence of the story rings true on a number of levels and stays real and down to earth. The movie is engaging because it is a story about people, how they relate to each other under trying and stressful conditions and the psychology of being trapped underground and facing a seemingly hopeless situation.

The 'Sanctum' story was written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight and was inspired by true events. The writers of the script are both cave divers and they have experienced first hand both the ecstasy of cave exploration and the very real dangers that exist whilst pursuing this activity. Obviously there would be no movie if everything on the expedition went smoothly and according to plan, there is an emphasis on all the things that could go wrong. It is worth noting though that the hazards experienced by the characters in the movie have not been plucked from mid air, the hazards are real. Still, while the characters do experience a horrific ordeal the cave itself is not painted as a malicious and evil place, nor should it be. The harsh reality of this unforgiving world is contrasted with the breathtaking beauty that only submerged caves can offer. The opportunity to see such exquisite beauty is one of the reasons people choose to go down there.

'Sanctum' gives a glimpse into the psyche of the explorer and what drives them to keep pushing such hostile environments. It tries to share the joy of exploration and the thrill of finding new cave passage. The idea that you can go around the corner and enter an unknown world and see a place no one has ever seen before... I think that appeals to the explorer in each of us. The phenomenal thing is, this kind of exploration is still possible today!

My favorite part of watching the movie was actually seeing it all come together on the big screen. I love what Alister Grierson, the director, did with the story - I really enjoyed watching his vision. It captures the world of cave exploration brilliantly; the personalities involved, the potential conflicts, the pleasure, the pain, the difficulties, the splendor and finally and most importantly the feeling of hope. Sure, I would have done it differently, but I'm no hot shot director. Watching my world through his eyes was an interesting experience.

The actors (Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Rhys Wakefield, Dan Whyllie and Allison Cratchley) did a fantastic job, not just because they captured the spirit of the characters so well but also because they actually did the diving. There are no tricks in this movie, the actors were underwater and they were diving! When you see the character Frank MacGuire squeezing through tight restrictions pushing his Sentinel rebreather in front of him, well that really is Richard Roxburgh doing all the work. It was incredible what the actors managed to do in such a short period of time. They went from having zero diving experience to diving rebreathers, carrying stages and riding scooters, which is quite amazing. It is a testament to John Garvin and his excellent teaching skills as well as the pluck and fearlessness of the actors. This level of involvement and dedication from the actors is obvious when watching the movie and it adds that little extra to the experience. It also meant that as a stunt diver I could sit around and look pretty while they did all the work, bonus!

Check out the 'Sanctum' movie trailer and make sure you go see this flick on the 3rd of Feb! It is quite a ride and a full on adventure. And yes it is 'good'.