“Sanctum,” produced by James Cameron, sends audiences deep underground in 3D this weekend. I say that if you want to go cinematic spelunking for fun and thrills, you can’t do better than “The Descent,” Neil Marshall’s nerve wracking, claustrophobic survival thriller about six extreme sports women in the maze of an underground Appalachian cave system. The barely traversable crawlspaces should be the first clue that this is not the tourist-friendly tour they signed up for but it takes a cave-in and death-defying obstacles to make them realize they’re in uncharted territory. And they’re not alone.
Sure, there are no monsters in the man-against-nature “Sanctum” while “The Descent” offers a truly shudder-inspiring threat in the creepy “crawlers,” but you could just as easily call them the worst of the natural disasters faced by our crew. They are pack predators that are blind from being underground for so long (you can construct your own evolutionary journey for these albino humanoids) and hunt by sound (they screech like bats—creepy!) and scent. You could call this a subterranean “Deliverance,” pitting the weekend warrior women against cadaverous crawlers that pick off the weak and the wounded as they scramble to find their way out of this unexplored system.