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Sanctum (film)

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Title: Sanctum (film)  
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Sanctum (film)

Sanctum 3D
Promotional poster
Directed by Alister Grierson
Produced by Andrew Wight
Written by John Garvin
Andrew Wight
Starring Richard Roxburgh
Rhys Wakefield
Alice Parkinson
Daniel Wyllie
Ioan Gruffudd
Music by David Hirschfelder
Cinematography Jules O'Loughlin
Edited by Mark Warner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • 3 February 2011 (2011-02-03) (Australia)
  • 4 February 2011 (2011-02-04) (US)
Running time 109 minutes
Country Australia[1]
Language English
Budget $30 million[2]
Box office $108,609,310[2]

Sanctum is a 2011 Australian 3D adventure film directed by Alister Grierson and written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight. It stars Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield and Ioan Gruffudd. Wight also produced the film, with James Cameron as executive producer.


Seventeen-year-old Joshua "Josh" McGuire (Rhys Wakefield), expedition bank-roller Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) and his girlfriend, Victoria "Vic" Elaine (Alice Parkinson), travel to the Esa'ala Cave, an underwater cave exploration site in Papua New Guinea. Josh's father, Frank (Richard Roxburgh), a master diver, has already established a forward base camp at a lower level inside the cave, where the team has been exploring for weeks. As Josh begins to advertise his disdain for his father and his opinions about cave exploration, the team below prepares to dive into an unexplored area of the system.

While exploring the entrance to the new system, Judes (Allison Cratchley) experiences a problem with her air tank hose. She loses use of her air mask forcing Frank to buddy breathe. After a few exchanges, Judes panics and tries to keep the mask on, but Frank forces the mask off of her knowing he will not have enough air otherwise to make it back to the team. As Judes drowns, Josh watches on a monitor at "forward camp" and presumes the worst of his father. In a struggle to determine who truly was responsible for her death, it is revealed by Frank that Judes had dived in an exhausted state since they previously had to retrieve the extra bailout tanks, a task Josh didn't do. Meanwhile, their above-ground crew realizes that a very big storm is preparing to hit their location sooner than anticipated. They proceed to try and reach the team below but to no avail. Josh expresses his desire to return to the surface and with communications down and an uncertain expedition in front of them, team leader Frank agrees to have his son return to the surface with a buddy climber ahead of them.

While Josh climbs back towards the surface with Luko, Liz, and J.D, water begins rushing in from their exit. The storm they were trying to avoid had turned into a cyclone causing flash floods and even engulfing portions of the cave. As J.D. and Liz make their way up through "the elevator" (an area leading up to the main entrance of the cave), Josh realizes he cannot leave his father and friends behind to their doom and relates his decision to Luko who accompanies him back down the cave. As they are making their way back to "forward camp" Josh and Luko notice a light gleaming behind rushing water facing towards them. Frank and the team below had no choice but to leave their camp and head to the surface after flooding began to occur. Frank and Carl were assisting Victoria as she climbed her way up and out of the particular cavern their base was located in. Josh leaps in to help, strapping a rope around a nearby boulder and forming a belay for the team to escape. Unfortunately, the boulder begins to give way leaving Josh to hold Victoria's line and Luko to hold back the boulder. The water rushes through and forces Victoria and Josh to fall back down into the now flooded base camp. Luko, trying to relieve himself of the heavy boulder, releases his grip and falls down into the rocky walls below. His injuries are catastrophic and the team is unable to get to him before the water takes him away through an underwater tunnel. Their attempt to escape the way they came has failed.

The team now has to find a way out of the cave through the unexplored systems. They grab anything useful at camp and prepare for their long escape. Victoria, panicked and anxious, refuses to wear Jude's old wetsuit and is given a quick tutorial on how to dive. All of a sudden, Luko's body washes up near their camp and Josh swims out to check his vitals. Luko is very near death and cannot continue in his condition. Frank has to end his life. The team presses on and makes it through to the other side of the system. Victoria regrets her decision to refuse a wetsuit as she shivers under a blanket with her boyfriend, Carl, beside her. Meanwhile, George an experienced, veteran diver has become ill due to the dive and is dying unbeknownst to the rest of the team. After a short rest, the team continues through the system following the flow of water out towards the sea. George realizes that he cannot continue and after sharing a few words with Josh relieves himself of his pack and hides so as not to burden the rest of the team.

As the team marches on they arrive at a seemingly dead end. A great hole in the bottom of the cave separates them from the other side of their path. Josh uses his climbing expertise to fish a line across and begins to transfer their gear and each other. As Victoria begins to make her way across she catches her hair in her rope gear she is hung on and loses her grip, leaving her hair as the only thing holding her weight. She pulls out her knife after having already endured terrible injury to her head and cuts the entangled area apart falling to her death. The trauma and anxiety drive Carl crazy. He steals the last remaining rebreather they have and makes for the exit. Josh and Frank, however, find another way out through a crevasse in the cavern. Outside the opening they see sunlight as they step out into a giant hole in the earth where an old tank had collapsed through the surface years ago. Unfortunately the hole in the middle of the roof where the tank fell is the only opening and they are unable to climb out. They spend the rest of the day there and proceed back into the cave by night.

A little later they discover Carl who has gone completely insane and found Victoria's dead body. Carl attempts to murder Frank but Josh separates the two and temporarily disables Carl. Frank, however, has been gravely injured having fallen on a stalagmite which punctured his back. When Carl wakes, the gravity of his actions is realized and he solemnly swims away through a tunnel. Josh is then asked by Frank to ease his pain by drowning him. Just as he begins to lose hope, Josh does find a way out through the cave to open ocean. He is then seen crawling onto the beach where he is discovered by three people fishing on it.

The end credit paid a tribute to Wesley C. Skiles.



Sanctum was inspired by the film's co-writer Andrew Wight's experience with a 1988 cave diving expedition in Australia that resulted in 13 cavers becoming trapped in one of the world's largest underwater cave systems in Nullarbor Plain after a freak storm collapsed the entrance.[3] That incident was documented in the film Nullarbor Dreaming.[4]

James Cameron served as executive producer for Sanctum.[5] Even though the film's plot takes place in Esa'ala Cave, most of the film was shot in Australia (Gold Coast, Queensland) and Mexico (Cave of Swallows). Sanctum employs 3D photography techniques Cameron developed to film Avatar. All of the underwater sequences took place in a large water tank at the Village Roadshow Studios in Queensland. Real caves were also filmed in South Australia's cave-diving region around Mount Gambier.[5]

Stunt diver Agnes Milowka, who appears as a double in the already-released film, drowned in one of these caves on 27 February 2011 when she reportedly ran out of air.[6] In striking similarities to the movie script, she also left her spare tank behind, to force the way through the tight restriction, and it is actually her playing Judes' drowning scene.[7]

Universal Studios and Relativity Media paid $12 million for rights to distribute the film in the United States and Canada, and in several foreign countries.[8]


Box office

Sanctum opened with $9.2 million in its first weekend,[9] coming in second behind The Roommate.[10] CinemaScore polls indicated a C+ rating from audiences.[1] As of March 2011, Sanctum was the tenth-highest-grossing Australian film at the international box office.[11]

The movie made $3,838,154 at the Australian box office.[12]

Critical reception

The film received predominantly negative reviews in the US. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 30% of 161 critics rated the film positively with an average score of 4.5/10. The consensus states that "Sanctum is beautifully photographed, and it makes better use of 3-D technology than most, but that doesn't make up for its ham-handed script and lifeless cast." It has a Metacritic rating of 42 out of 100. However, in the rest of the world, where the major part of the gross take occurred,[2] some reviews were slightly better. In Australia, Jim Schembri gave it 3 1/2 stars from 5[13] whilst the UK's Daily Express gave it 3 from 5.[14]

Home video

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Sanctum on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and Blu-ray 3D on 7 June 2011.[15]

See also

  • Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films


  1. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy; Fritz, Ben (2011-02-06). "Box office: 'Roommate' beats 'Sanctum' on slow Super Bowl weekend [Updated]". Los Angeles Times ( 
  2. ^ a b c "Sanctum (2011)".  
  3. ^ "Cave Diving". Melbourne Sun Herald. Retrieved 2011-07-13. 
  4. ^ Wright, Andrew. "Nullarbor dreaming : a real life adventure". Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Sanctum (2011) – About the Production". Visual Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  6. ^ Katherine Firkin, Matt Schulz (2011-02-28). "Victorian cave diver Agnes Milowka dies at Tank Cave, Mt Gambier". Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  7. ^ Nick Greenaway,  
  8. ^ Fritz, Ben; Kaufman, Amy (2011-02-03). "Movie Projector: 'The Roommate' and 'Sanctum' won't score on Super Bowl weekend". Los Angeles Times ( 
  9. ^ Kaufman, Amy; Fritz, Ben (2011-02-07). "Company Town: 'The Roommate' trumps 'Sanctum' at the box office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  10. ^ Carla Börjesson (2011-02-06). "Box office: 'The Roommate' easily wins a quiet weekend". Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  11. ^ "King's Speech: The little non-Aussie that could". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  12. ^ 17 May 2011If MagazineSam Dallas, "Box Office: Insidious posts modest opening", accessed 24 May 2014
  13. ^ Jim Schembri (2011-02-03). "Sanctum 3D". Melbourne: Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  14. ^ "Sanctum film review". 2011-02-04. Retrieved 2011-08-22. 
  15. ^ Tom Woodward (2011-04-04). "Universal Studios Home Entertainment announces DVD and Blu-ray releases". DVD Active. Retrieved 2011-04-04. 

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