PANDORUM (2009) review
written by: Travis Milloy & Christian Alvart
produced by: Paul W. S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt & Robert Kulzer
directed by: Christian Alvart
rated R (for strong horror violence and language)
runtime: 1 hr. 48 min.
U.S. release date: September 25, 2009
DVD & Bluray release: January 19, 2010
It’s almost impossible to come up with any new angle or storyline in the sci-fi film genre. So much has already been recycled and remade that it’s hard to believe there can still be a satisfying experience. Considering the well-written television and involving video games to compete with, it’s understandable that sci-fi fans might be hesitant to get sucked into any new release. This summer, films like “Moon” and “District 9” have shown us that viewers can still be entertained as filmmakers borrow from familiar sci-fi films. Here’s a psychological sci-fi horror thriller that resembles other films yet takes a turn at the end that you won’t see coming.
“Pandorum” deals with what I’ve come to call “space madness”. Whenever someone has been in outer space for a long enough time, especially what appears to be on their own….things go wrong. Reality, identity and fantasy becomes unrecognizable. Hands tremor uncontrollably, logic and morality is often questioned and whatever appears to be right before a character’s eyes should be second-guessed. Such is the case for two astronauts who are forcefully awoken from hyper sleep to find themselves drifting through space. They have no recollection of who they are, what their mission is, or what has happened to the crew of their ship.
Director Christian Alvart drops us some 50 years in the future, more than 500 million miles from Earth in a claustrophobic panic. Corp. Bower (Ben Foster) is the first to wake up to this mystery and is soon accompanied by Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid), the grizzled been-there-done-that to Bower’s boy scout. They realize something has malfunctioned the ship’s power source which requires Bower maneuvering through tightly tubed shafts while Peyton provides com-link directions through the dimly lit ship. The goal is to restart the power source at the ship’s core, but it doesn’t help that Bower, still disoriented, is now starting to encounter killer mutant creatures roaming the slimy corridors.
Throughout the depths of the ship, Bower stumbles across dead crew members and a couple of blade-wielding survivors doing their best to stay clear of the bloodthirsty mutants. Nadia (Antje Traue) reveals that the ship is designed as our planet’s Noah’s Ark, carrying eco-samples as well as hundreds of other humans in deep sleep. Manh (Cung Le) is an agricultural worker with a knack for acrobatic sword-swinging who winds up saving Bower’s hide more than once. Both of them see that Bower could possibly be the only way out of this dead ship as they do their best to elude the savage mutants (reminiscent of the crawlers from “The Descent”) multiplying throughout the ship. Meanwhile, Payton has to deal with Gallo (Cam Gigandet), a paranoid crew member he finds who may have succumbed to “Pandorum,” (this film’s version of space madness) while trying get a grasp on his shaky hands. It becomes clear that this scarred ship with its horrors lurking at almost every turn may be humanity’s last hope.
This sounds like a combination of the sci-fi and horror conventions we’re familiar with yet at no point did my mind wander or wonder when it was going to end nor did I predict what was going to happen. It’s undeniable that Alvart knows “Even Horizon” and other films that deal with the isolation of space travel but it’s possible to recognize that while enjoying it for what it is. Alvart does excel in depicting panic-stricken situations in which these actors must immediately overcome which is a plus since I had to overlook unfortunate plot holes. A part of me did wonder what this movie would have been like without these mutant creatures though. But then again, on its own, the space madness story doesn’t seem to be enough. Since Alvart doesn’t go deep enough into any damaged psyche of the crew, it was necessary to have a threatening element of danger surrounding this “Pandorum”. So, I was fine with the amalgam of two genres, although the explanation as to how these mutants came to be didn’t go over well.
One aspect that was consistently entertaining to me was watching the cast. There are some supporting performances that are kind of flat but I was still convinced they were at least into their roles. I must admit the draw for me here was Foster and Quaid. I’ve been a fan of Foster’s work since “Hostage” and have kept an eye on the choices he makes with each role. He may be making a name for himself as the “go-to guy” with the intense eyes and furrowed brow but at least he’s good at it. Here, I even found myself admiring his responses to situations around him in which his delivery was either convincingly natural or surprisingly humorous. Quaid does show a few more layers than we’ve seen in his recent work but I have to say that I wanted more manic out of him. Nevertheless, it was a welcome return to see him back in sci-fi, since some of my favorite work of his has been in this genre.
“Pandorum” starts out well by peeling away at the mysterious layers of both the plot and the internal struggle of the two leads. It employs a generous portion of twists and turns as it reaches for a revealing finale. Whether or not you buy that closing is another thing but at least you can’t say that Alvart and co-writer Travis Milloy left you floating in space. There’s enough action, gore, and suspense along with cinematography that added a discomforting tone for me to recommend this as a solid B-movie thriller. What stood out the most is that the film wound up being a totally different movie (for the better) than what I was led to believe in the first trailer….and that is always a welcome surprise.