This film is a huge disappointment.  We’ve come to expect greatness from James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Avatar,”) but this one feels like he became enamored with the idea of shooting a 3-D cave exploration film, but delegated everything else to underlings.  So we have puzzling casting, underdeveloped characters, a clichéd script, and darkness.  Lots of darkness.
            Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is the veteran diver and underwater cave explorer determined to “discover the last frontier on earth”---this underground water labyrinth’s passageway to the sea.  But there’s a price to pay, mounting such a vast exploratory expedition.  First, you need funding, and lots of it.  Enter the playboy rich man, Carl (Ioan Gryffudd), with his beautiful but shallow girlfriend, who insists they both come along for the ride, despite their technical inexperience.  But Frank has other problems.  His son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), thinks the whole enterprise is a big waste of effort, but his love/hate relationship with his father forces him to remain there, helping somewhat, but complaining bitterly about everything.  In fact, the whole crew has been underground long enough to be battling genuine fatigue and water-weariness, which makes them all more susceptible to mistakes and catastrophic accidents, which, of course, is exactly what happens.
            Outside, a huge tropical storm is rapidly approaching, which causes the tides to shift, which floods the part of the cave they were in, which means they have to find another way out.  The problem for the viewer is that it all looks similarly craggy and murky, and we never have a clear sense of what direction we’re going or where this particular cavern leads.  The whole movie could have been shot in a 100-foot wide shallow pool and we wouldn’t know the difference. Yes, the 3-D underwater technology allows for more clarity as we watch someone in a face mask panic and choke.  But they forgot to help us care about the characters first.  And there is no real plot, other than “we gotta get out of this place.”  And we quickly tire of the little crew’s backstabbing, both figurative and literal.  There’s no romance.  There’s no humor.  The meanness and grimness is unrelenting.  There’s not even a hint of self-deprecating irony.  C’mon, guys, what happened to humor and whimsy and just plain ol’ fun?
            “Sanctum” might be of interest to some hard-core divers and cave explorers who will marvel at the technology displayed here.  But otherwise, this is a movie to skip.  In this Oscar season, there are a lot better offerings out there.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas