Sanctum 2011 Movie Scene Divers in the underwater cave system using a bell to make a pit stop before reaching their forward camp

Sanctum [2011]

If exploring caves is not scary enough for you why don’t you add the diving element and become an underwater cave explorer? Well, I certainly know at least one person who won’t be doing any of that shit. And that person is me. Sanctum is a movie about a group of divers exploring one of the most mysterious underwater cave systems, Esa’ala Cave in Papua New Guinea. As you can already guess, things will go horribly wrong for our heroes relatively soon and they will have to work hard to get out of this thing alive. Sanctum is loosely based on an actual incident that happened in underwater cave systems in Nullarbor Plain, Australia.

I don’t want to reveal too much about that event because I want you to experience this movie first. If you want to know more about it, check out the documentary Nullarbor Dreaming. So, this means that there won’t be any weird creatures, sharks, or anything like that in the movie. As far as I can tell most of the technical details were spot on. At least according to some of the divers who watched the movie. However, the story is your classic mainstream predictable mess featuring one-dimensional characters and melodramatic twists.

If you want to see something more realistic and simply better, I suggest you check out Thirteen Lives. It’s based on a true story about divers trying to rescue teenagers stuck in an underwater cave in Thailand. If, however, you’re looking for something that requires zero brain effort and is nice and shiny, Sanctum will do just fine. The very setting alone makes it worth watching let alone the fact that some people were really in these situations. This adds additional layers of fear and dread to the story. The atmosphere was so intensely claustrophobic at times that I had to remind myself this is just a movie.

Frank McGuire is an expert diver exploring the immense cave system in Papua New Guinee. Soon, his young son and a couple of others join him there looking to etch their names in history. They want to be the first to fully map the Esa’ala Cave. The preparations for this dangerous mission are slow and meticulous. However, once they reach the forward base camp, the real fun can begin. Everybody is really excited to really get going not knowing that some people will remain in their watery graves here.

Sanctum is one of those 3D movies that were so popular toward the end of the 2000s. This is why it looks a bit cheap in 2D as its primary objective was the rob the box offices during its initial theatrical run. Which it certainly did making more than $100 million on a $30 million budget. The cast led by veteran Richard Roxburgh (Van Helsing, Hacksaw Ridge, Danger Close) was solid making the most of the mediocre script. What wasn’t mediocre was the underwater photography. It looked mighty impressive and even CGI-enhanced scenes were believable. I’ll just say that James Cameron was the executive producer and leave it at that. 

I think that the best way to enjoy Sanctum is to get really high and just go with it. Suspend your belief and imagine yourself being down there and in that particular situation. Finally, if you’re looking for movies like Sanctum but with a monster twist I recommend you check out The Descant and The Cave. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the claustrophobic Spanish thriller La Cueva. It’s not a creature feature but a brutally realistic thriller featuring one hell of an atmosphere.

Director: Alister Grierson

Writers: John Garvin, Andrew Wight

Cast: Rhys Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Dan Wyllie, Allison Cratchley, Alice Parkinson

Fun Facts: All underwater scenes you see in this movie were shot in a huge water tank containing seven million liters of water located in Queensland, Australia.


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