Science fiction horror has proven to be a tough genre to crack in Hollywood, with numerous forays into the area proving to be extremely unsuccessful at the box office (although less so critically). For every big hit like Alien there are several flops such as Event Horizon or Supernova and now, based on extremely poor results at the US box office, it appears that Pandorum can be classified among the latter. It’s a shame really as it is a film that has looked very promising since trailers first emerged and, despite having the much despised Paul W.S. Anderson as a producer, word of mouth thus far has been very good. But, much like the aforementioned Event Horizon, it appears that Pandorum is a film that is destined to be a box office failure, although there is definitely potential for it to be fondly remembered years down the line.
In deep space, some 500 million miles from Earth, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) wake from suspended animation to find themselves in a darkened ship that is seemingly deserted. Neither man can remember why they’re on board in the first place, and the only sign of life is a mysterious rumble emanating from the bowels of the vessel. Bower sets off to investigate, while Payton remains to guide him via radio transmitter. Nervously exploring the spacecraft, Bower discovers that he and Payton are not alone. When he encounters Nadia (Antje Traue), he learns that she and a small group of fellow humans are locked in a brutal battle with a strange and sinister enemy. But nothing is as it first appears for Bower and Payton as the ship slowly begins to reveal its terrifying secrets.
Pandorum – meaning space insanity for those who want to know – is a film that will be panned by many for not being very original. Such criticisms certainly have some validity, the film clearly borrowing from a number of other sci-fi chillers. However, while the inspiration of films like Alien and Event Horizon is clearly visible in many aspects of the film, it doesn’t mean that Pandorum cannot still be considered a success on its own terms. Director Christian Alvart successfully takes elements that could be considered cliché and makes them feel somewhat fresh again, delivering what is quite possibly one of the year’s most terrifying movies. As with many sci-fi scare flicks it is very dark for much of the duration but Alvart hasn’t made it so dark as to make it impossible to see what is going on and right from the start he establishes a creepy atmosphere with the spaceship itself seeming a foreboding and sinister presence long before the monsters ever appear. And when the creatures do put in an appearance they prove to be extremely terrifying creations, the impact of which isn’t diminished much by the apparent use of CGI in their realisation (something which can often look cheap) over practical effects. In fact, the visual effects in general are of a pretty high standard and, combined with great interior and exterior ship design and good creature design, the film is, if nothing else, visually slick. Nothing else is not the case, however, as there is another side to the film that makes it more than just zombies in space and really ups the tension level. This element is an instance of psychological menace that is woven into the story, with the condition of Pandorum proving to be as much a threat as the monsters themselves. This element of the film isn’t explored in any terrific depth but it does help to heighten the horror of the situation by offering a brief insight into the effects of such horrific circumstances on the human psyche. The psychological angle is handled well but not explored to its fullest potential, although this doesn’t let the film down much as it is clear that the director has set out to make a horror film not start any kind of philosophical debate. As such the horrors of the ship are placed at the centre of the film, as opposed to their effects. This isn’t to say that the characters aren’t provided with some development, however, as, through flashback sequences, we are given a degree of character background and clarification as to certain plot points. This may not be very substantial but it is enough for the purposes of the film. Consequently, the actors are given some good material to work with and do a pretty good job with their parts, but a master class in acting ability this film certainly isn’t. This won’t diminish enjoyment of the film much though and, all in all, while not being one of the most original scare films of the year, Pandorum is easily one of the most terrifying horror films seen in some time, and also one of the most substantial, and it is definitely worth checking out if you are a sci-fi horror fan.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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