Aggrieved Son has a chip on his shoulder about Robo-Dad dragging him all his life from cave to cave without ever asking if he liked caves. Robo-Dad is not real understanding about Aggrieved’s issues. Robo-Dad is like the former drill sergeant turned therapist in the GEICO commercial: “That’s interesting. You know what makes me sad? You do! Maybe we should chug on over to mamby-pamby land where maybe we can find some self-confidence for you, ya jack-wagon!”
Here is Hardass’s touching speech immediately after a particularly horrifying death: “She made her own choices. She came down here without experience. She [made other mistakes]. That’s three mistakes in a place where you can hardly make one.” He says this right in front of the dead woman’s fiancé, whose shaken response—“Have you no decency?”—elicited laughter from the screening audience. My thought was: I thought it was a foregone conclusion 45 minutes ago that Hardass had no decency. How long have you known him?
Character-wise, that’s about it, I guess. There are a number of other warm bodies on the screen, some assigned roles and/or alleged to have personality traits. Maybe I should count Arrogant Thrill-seeking American Millionaire Sponsor (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four), who for reasons I can’t reconstruct in my mind begins the movie irritated at Hardass for not having found the underground outlet leading to the ocean yet, as a character. Hm. Nah. (Hardass’s response reminds me of Belloq in Raiders: “I promised nossing! Spelunking is not an exact science!”)
At some point Hardass takes a stab* at explaining to Aggrieved Son why he was such a lame father and husband. It comes out something like this: “I could never be what you needed, or what she needed. Down here, I can make sense of the world. Up there ... CDs and cars and mortgages ... I was lost. This is my church.” So add, what, abandonment and/or divorce to euthanasia and suicide on the movie’s Culture of Death Rationalization Checklist. And really bad dialogue.
This might sound like a line from a movie review on The Onion, but: I would have thought “executive produced by James Cameron” meant something. For all that might be said, and truly said, about Cameron’s limitations as a filmmaker, and the morally problematic milieux of most of his films, the man is focused like a laser beam on entertaining his target audience, which is a big chunk of everybody. Sanctum brutalizes the audience and gives almost nothing in return. I am so not surprised to read in Roger Ebert’s review, “Here is a movie that can only harm the reputations of Cameron and 3-D itself.”
I went to see Sanctum in part because of the allure of caves, and the film does deliver some pretty scenery. Occasionally the 3-D is even an asset. If, over my objections, you decide to see Sanctum, ask yourself while you are watching a young woman caught by her hair until her scalp starts to peel away from her skull if it’s worth it.
* No pun intended, although you’d have to see the film to get this footnote. It’s not worth it.