In short, Sanctum is a film about survival. Indeed, survival is the outer shell, the shell and core film. Sure, there are a couple of character strings to float throughout the film, but most of them end abruptly with the death of every character, and the only one who does all his conflict is resolved with the other characters are just dying or dead. This is not a spoiler, because the plot is very easy to predict.
Yet even if the public can easily see all the major sites in ten miles away from them, this works. Estranged father and son are being discussed most of the film? Check. Inevitably, father and son reconciliation? Check. Other members of the expedition, which could also be wearing an “I killed 3 … 2 … 1 …” t-shirt? Check. I’m sorry to ruin this, but none of these are really spoilers, Sanctum is followed by one of the oldest history books and stereotyped.
But since this is the first James Cameron-produced movie since Avatar, no one is probably going to see Sanctum for its plot. Most viewers will probably be more interested to hear how well the suspense and the 3D effects work. The moment-to-moment suspense works well to distract the viewer from the predictable plot and archetypical characters. The movie is also bright enough to know when to inject a brief moment of calm into the action so that the audience has something to compare the suspenseful action to. The action itself starts early on in the film and does not let up until much later, as the characters struggle to survive in a large and complex cave system that is flooding rapidly thanks to a cyclone.
So far so standard, but since this is a James Cameron film, the 3D effects turn into the elephant in the room; nagging the reviewer to mention them. As much innovation as you put into 3D filming, Mr. Cameron, it seems like you have lost a bit of the thread of what the technology is perfectly suited for: fantasy and science fiction. To be fair, the 3D is used in the exact same way and just as well as it was in Avatar, but it doesn’t quite mesh as well with the comparatively mundane setting that Sanctum has: a big cave. Granted, it was a very pretty cave, but at the end of the day, it was still just a big hole in the ground. And a big hole in the ground simply cannot hope to compete with Avatar’s fantastical moon-world, Pandora.
Which leaves this review with the writing, acting, and the soundtrack? Overall, the writing, while never original or impressive, is at least competent; the characters are consistent, the dialogue suits the action and characters well enough. In fact, the only significant strike against the writing is that it seems like whoever wrote the screenplay was phoning it in somewhat; as evidenced by the blurb at the beginning reading “this film was inspired by true events;” by ‘inspired’ they mean ‘copied’ and by ‘true events’ they mean ‘a crazy story some guy told us.’ The actors do their parts well; even Ioan Gruffard, who comic book fans will remember for helping to butcher the Fantastic Four in their film adaptations as Mr. Fantastic. Lastly, the soundtrack mirrored the film’s overall quality: competent but bland.
If you happen to be a fan of films of survival or work of James Cameron, so you can check. 3D effects are used in a responsible and mature, but they can’t really add much to the film. Writing, acting, music, and overall the plot is passable. Do not go to the Sanctum expect a great story. Do not go to the Sanctum expects a fantastic soundtrack. Certainly not going to wait for the next Sanctum Avatar. What you can expect from Sanctum are some great special effects, written authority, and a good action thriller. As mentioned earlier in this review, Sanctum is competent but bland. Or, in other words, it’s a popcorn movie, quite edible, but it’s not going to imprison someone.