Sanctum is a slow-moving descent into disaster, and The Rite goes wrong

by Mark Burger

Director Alister Grierson, working under the auspices of Executive Producer James Cameron, has fashioned a disaster out of the disaster film Sanctum , one which manages, incredibly, to quash whatever seemingly inherent suspense the story might have had.

Despite the hype, hoopla and 3-D effects, this is the sort of thing that the late producer Irwin Allen (the “Master of Disaster” himself) used to do by rote — and so much better.

The film depicts what goes wrong at a scientific excavation site in the Esa’Ala district of Papua, New Guinea. Scientists, explorers and divers have been exploring what one character describes as “the mother of all caves” (and that’s one of the better lines). In its CGI introduction, the screen fills with the image of a gigantic, yawning hole that leads deep into the Earth. The story that follows is itself a gigantic yawn.

When a storm — forecast in advance, by the way — strikes the region, several divers are still inside the cave when the water starts gushing and rising and the rocks start rolling and tumbling. The only route of escape is to go through a perilous series of caves and crevices (some underwater) and out the other side… if there is an other side.

Rhys Wakefield plays Josh, a troubled teen trying to establish a relationship with his harddriving father Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the dive leader. Have no fear: Young Josh will get plenty of opportunities to prove his mettle in this predicament. Ioan Gruffudd plays Carl, the wealthy (and naturally cocky) financier of the expedition, accompanied by the girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) he wooed while they were climbing Mount Everest. Dan Wyllie provides the obligatory comic relief, such as it is, as Frank’s loyal sidekick. But he’s not laughing for long.

An opening legend indicates that Sanctum is “inspired by true events,” a term whose validity appears to get more and more shaky in the world filmmaking (see The Rite, below). Historical accuracy notwithstanding, Sanctum is remarkably dull. The characters are strictly cardboard and the dialogue is stiff, rendering the actors’ performances mostly indifferent.

For a film that was specifically shot in the 3-D process, the 3-D effects aren’t that great — and don’t add much to the story, anyway. There is some nice underwater photography, but that’s hardly enough to recommend or justify a sojourn to see Sanctum.

Everything goes wrong in The Rite , a pointless exercise in demonic dementia the wastes the talents of all involved, particularly leading man Anthony Hopkins, who appears to alternate between boredom and embarrassment, with some scenerychewing histrionics thrown in.

In the almost 40 years since the release of The Exorcist, Hollywood has tried with varying degrees of failure to replicate its box-office success. This film, supposedly “inspired by true events” (the devil made them do it?), offers a few camp chuckles but stands only to make Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and Renny Harlin’s 2004 prequel Exorcist: The Beginning look good — well, better — in comparison.

In his first big-screen lead, Colin O’Donoghue is fairly awful as a young American priest who is teamed with veteran exorcist Hopkins. According to this film, it seems that the Vatican is preparing to assign exorcists to Catholic parishes throughout the world, so somebody’s got to train them….

Alice Braga plays a young journalist who’s writing about this new Vatican program, thereby compounding the sheer inanity of the notion and therefore fulfilling the need for a female lead in the film. She and O’Donoghue flirt and make goo-goo eyes at each other from time to time, which is nothing if not out of sorts, much less place. Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, priestly collars intact but dignities slightly frayed, are wasted as fellow clergymen, and Rutger Hauer drops in briefly as O’Donoghue’s mortician dad, ultimately to end up on his own slab.

Even bad movies tend to begin with good ideas, but The Rite has no ideas at all. How this clueless shocker earned a PG-13 rating is perhaps its only interesting facet. Director Mikael Hafstrom got lucky with the 2007 Stephen King adaptation 1408, but his luck has abandoned him here. For audiences, that means it’s time to abandon all hope….

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