Sanctum is the new 3D thriller from James Cameron, except that the Avatar creator is only an executive producer on this film, not the director. Filmed in Australia on a relatively modest $30 million dollar budget, it’s inspired by a real-life cave-diving tragedy that the film’s screenwriter Andrew Wight himself survived.

The plot is centered on legendary explorer Frank McGuire (played by Richard Roxburgh) and his team of divers who find themselves trapped in the Esa-ala Caves of Papua New Guinea when a tropical storm creates havoc.

Unforgivably simplistic, and cursed with cardboard characters and laughable dialogue, Sanctum starts off promisingly with a jaw-dropping aerial shot of a deep wide cave, bang at the centre of thick, lush greens. No visual in this film comes close to that one early shot.

The rest of the film, of course, takes place in dark underwater caves where McGuire, his twenty-something-year-old son, his millionaire investor and his girlfriend, and a few expendable divers struggle to swim to safety as the water level rises rapidly and equipment begins to fail. There’s a turgid father-son bonding theme that runs parallel to the main story, and surprisingly even the thrills in this film are limited.

You shouldn’t expect fine acting in an adventure thriller, but the cast is pure wood in this film, particularly the young male lead, played by Rhys Wakefield.

Unlike a few bad films that end up somewhat watchable because of the 3D technology, Sanctum becomes exhausting early on. Shot using the same cameras that were used on Avatar, some images here are striking, but the film never achieves the sense of claustrophobia that might have turned it into a compelling watch.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Sanctum. It’s dead boring after a point; and as you wait for something to happen on screen to shake you out of your comfort, you find that nothing does!

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