If you are having trouble sleeping, try drowning yourself. If that fails, see Sanctum. It’s the cinematic equivalent of slowly filling your lungs with water.

Sanctum posterWith James Cameron attached to the film, there was some hope that this derivative-looking thriller would at least benefit from The King of the World’s flair for over-the-top theatrics, albeit ones that seem shallow upon reflection. Yet from start to finish, Sanctum may single-handedly take out the top slot for the most tedious film of the year – and it’s only February. Adopting one of the most uninspired uses of 3D since the craze took hold, viewers can actually watch much of the film sans glasses with few adverse effects. With glasses, however, Sanctum suffers a similar fate to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, with much of the film being a big blue and brown mess on occasion. Although the format is in its relative infancy, at least in terms of digital 3D, there have been few films that have managed to overcome the limitations of the format in live-action, and Sanctum is no exception. Despite the odd nice use of O’Loughlin’s cinematography, especially in the opening helicopter shots (which are starkly reminiscent of Avatar, by the way), we are largely treated to shot after shot of wet brown rocks. In 3D.

Inspired by true events , Sanctum explores the relatively underexposed extreme sports activity of caving. Set in the surrounds of Papua New Guinea, most of the action takes place in an elaborate system of underwater caverns, known as the most inaccessible on the planet. Veteran diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) is intent on discovering the inner-most areas of the formidable formation, with wealthy adventurer Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) financing the operation. With Frank’s resentful son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), Carl’s inexperienced girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and colleagues Jude (Allison Cratchley) and George (Dan Wyllie) along for the ride, the team remain optimistic about the mammoth task ahead of them, until the storm of the century is thrown into the mix.

It is entirely possible that Sanctum is a parody of exotic exploration movies that tend to be fraught with danger, as this may be the only way to explain away the ridiculous plotting and nonsensical characters. Certainly, a cameo appearance from The Chaser‘s Andrew Hansen adds weight to this theory. One can only assume that the film is going to be dubbed for overseas markets, as this is the only explanation for every single person OVERACTING AT THE TOP OF THEIR VOICES. When they aren’t killing or being killed, emotion tends to be conveyed by verbalising every thought that passes through their perfectly coiffed noggins, with hairstyles and makeup that appear to remain in place despite 17 days without sunlight and frequent underwater excursions. The largely Australian cast does an admirable job of carrying this unwieldy action film, despite being saddled with ockerisms like “it fizzed like a dropped tinny” from The Accidental Pirate Guy. Yet even they can’t overcome rather pedestrian plotting, dire dialogue and claustrophobic cinematography.

Sanctum is a deeply flawed movie, and most of the blame can be labelled on writers John Garvin and Andrew Wight and director Alistair Grierson. The scribes are content to meander from scene to scene, tacking in a bit of tried and true familial tension and ‘important’ character deaths to keep us on our toes. Grierson is very much (pardon the pun) out of his depth, not really knowing what to do with the admittedly limited characters he has been given. The miscast and hammy Roxburgh has very publicly complained about the problems with working with 3D cameras and looks lost when he isn’t yelling every line. At best, Sanctum is a nature documentary with some actors getting in the way, but for the most part we can tell it was filmed inside a water tank in Queensland – and haven’t they suffered enough water disasters lately?

Sanctum was released on February 3, 2011 in Australia by Universal Pictures.