REVIEW: Pandorum [2009]

“Where are the stars?”

I’ve got to give it to director Christian Alvart and writer Travis Milloy for delivering the goods with their horror/thriller Pandorum. Admittedly, I’d go see anything with Ben Foster in the cast, but there was also something in the trailer that piqued my interest despite the very easy chance of the film ending up a failure. The aesthetic is dark and slimy, the atmosphere is claustrophobic, and there are creatures of some sort hiding beneath the industrial tubes and blast-proof glass panes. While hopes were high, the dread of a disappointment kept me from rolling the dice and going with my gut to see it in the theatres. That was a mistake, as I do believe seeing it on the big screen would have only enhanced my enjoyment. This little gem is The Descent in space—maybe not as taut or starkly tactile emotionally, but it is engrossing and smart nonetheless—and well worth a visit.

Our fears of overpopulation have occurred and the necessity to seek out new habitable worlds has been reached. Tanis has been found and it will serve as a new home, meeting the incalculable odds necessary to sustain human life. After many years of hoping to ferry over a settlement population, the time came with the advent of spaceship Elysium, capable of holding an astonishing 60,000 passengers. Something has gone wrong, however, and we listen to a radio broadcast wishing the flight crew good luck and safe journey for they are all that is left. Disjointed and discombobulated, exactly like the two crew members about to awaken from hibernation, the audience is left in the dark as to the meaning of that statement, let alone when it occurred in proximity to the present we are about to enter. Corporal Bower and Lieutenant Payton have become animated once more, unaware of their surroundings or their past, the only remnants of themselves lay in the training and duties they are meant to perform. It is a sort of muscle memory in their ability to understand the ship, but complete amnesia as far as recalling their own humanity.

Locked in the sleeping chamber, the two discover the immense vessel is gasping for life, overloading its circuits and in desperate need of a reboot. Luckily, Bower is the mechanical engineer and he sets out for the reactor to jumpstart their life support and figure out how to get the rest of the passengers to safety. What he finds instead is a race of super-strong humanoids without language and in abundance of bloodlust and hunger. Much like the creepy-crawlers in The Descent, these creatures have become hunters and killers without rhyme or reason, taking over the ship and using it as a playground for feasting. There truly is nothing like a room of pods full of sleeping people, opening at random, to be treated as a cafeteria of free food. Some of these poor souls have survived, though, living for who knows how long, learning to fight and survive. Only the tattoos on their arms lead to a memory of past lives and occupations, each person becoming an army of one, doing anything to earn an extra second of breath, whether it means stringing a fellow soul up as bait or not. Their lack of memory does ask one very large and looming question—how long have they been out in space?

The fictional realism created is quite believable. Our heroes have woken from deep sleep to be covered in a gelatinous layer of dead skin, their bodies unaged, thinking they have been offline for only eight years. The ship itself is a mass of tubes and metal with lights flickering, illuminating each reflective or matte surface with a foreboding sterility. Every sound and sharply cut fight scene only adds to the starkly stripped palette, making Pandorum a futuristic sci-fi flick of the cyberpunk genre. There is something to be said about the disorientation and metaphoric storytelling in a film like Eden Log that holds many stylistic similarities here, but perhaps a bit more in the easy to process plot Milloy has chosen, (once you reach the end and decipher the puzzle pieces that have been laid at your feet throughout). I actually believe this movie to be smarter than it gives itself credit for, creating a tight plot progression that reveals information slowly, giving the audience only what they need to keep questioning and wanting more. If you pay attention to the words and the timeframes, keeping care to construct an internal timeline for yourself as secrets are divulged, the conclusion will be more satisfying than cheap parlor trick. I would have loved the very end to be much darker and bleak, though, to keep with the tone of the rest.

Never that big a Dennis Quaid fan, I’ll concede that he does a pretty good job here as Payton. He is the man in charge, mostly alone for the duration, having to fight against himself to stay sane with all the noises and fearful things his imagination may dream up. The risk of reaching a state of pandorum—where one believes that all is lost, acquiescing to nature and pretty much partaking in mass suicide to expedite affairs—is high and unless Bower can find the reactor, the entire ship will die anyway. Ben Foster’s Bower is the character we find ourselves relating to for the duration. He is a smart kid with a memory of love to hold onto while traveling deeper and deeper into the depths of Elysium’s hell. Showing his ability to kick ass and be believable as an intellectual, humanity’s last chance at survival, is apparent at every turn. Even Antje Traue’s Nadia and Cung Le’s Manh are able to trust in his humanity to help achieve success in this veritable death march. These additions to his posse are exciting to watch as they engage the mutants and add a sense of purpose rather than following only one man for two hours in the dark. That isolation might have been workable too, but something about a group fighting for the whole of life resonates a bit more than the need of a God-like figure to do it for them. And while much of Pandorum may seem familiar, don’t let it detract from its effectiveness. I know there was talk of a sequel, but I for one would rather be interested in a prequel. There are many years between that opening transmission and the end of the journey, as well as some interesting stories to be told.

Pandorum 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] (Left to right.) Antje Traue and Ben Foster star in Overture Films’ Pandorum. PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE ARE TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. Jay Maidment © 2009 Constantin Film Produktion GmbH
[2] (Left to right.) Dennis Quaid and Cam Gigandet star in Overture Films’ Pandorum. PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE ARE TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. Constantin Film Produktion GmbH © 2009 Constantin Film Produktion GmbH


One Thought to “REVIEW: Pandorum [2009]”

  1. Nice review..I thoroughly enjoyed Pandorum and thought it deserved much more praise than it received… a real treat for true sci-fi fans

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