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Sanctum review

There’s lots of charge but not much depth in this James Cameron-produced nerve-jangler about cave divers trapped underground.

Aussie director Alister Grierson keeps the tension high as his motley collection of subterranean explorers fight hypothermia, decompression sickness and each other on their fraught return to the surface.

Yet though the combination of Abyss-style scuba action and Descent-like claustrophobia feels novel, the characters are anything but.

Cardboard has a tendency to go wobbly when wet, and the same applies to the cut-outs co-writers John Garvin and Andrew Wight attempt to pass off as flesh-and-blood protagonists.

“This cave’s not going to beat me!” scowls thrill-seeking moneybags Ioan Gruffudd as he ignores sound advice and embarks on an expedition through the Esa-ala system of Papua New Guinea. “What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?” shrugs his latest squeeze (Alice Parkinson).

Yes, folks, the dialogue really /is/ that obvious, not least that between obsessive team leader Richard Roxburgh (“Caves are my church!”) and the resentful son (Rhys Wakefield) he bonds with anew during their battle for life.

Some caricatures – like the girl who insists on “one last dive” despite suffering from fatigue, or the comic relief with the tell-tale cough – might as well come with crosshairs on their foreheads. We also know that when push comes to shove you can always count on the rich asshole to behave like, well, a rich asshole.

Such paper-thin personalities hardly improve for being shot in 3D. But thankfully the film as a whole does, scenes of gushing torrents, plunging bodies and subaqueous rockslides given a visceral jolt by Cameron’s current gimmick of choice.

Ditto the unworldly beauty of air pockets dribbling like mercury along immersed ceilings, or the way we’re enveloped by the submerged caverns’ awe-inspiring expanses.

It’s ethereal imagery like this that sustains fascination, not the buffed-up mannequins squabbling in the foreground in their figure-hugging wetsuits.

Despite having characters as shallow as its caves are bottomless and a plot as predictable as /127 Hours/, this suspenseful actioner delivers seat-edge thrills in accomplished goggle-vision.

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