The sophomore English language feature from German director Christian Alvart, Pandorum is essentially a haunted house movie in space. US audiences are yet to see Alvart’s first picture, the psychological horror-cum-creepy kid movie Case 39, although given the write-ups it’s received over in Europe that’s probably a good thing. Displaying a deft hand at ratcheting up some tension and superior ability when it comes to moving the camera around, Alvart’s picture is hamstrung by a woefully weak script and a novelty plot device kicking things off that only serves to undermine everything else he subsequently tries to do. There is also more than a hint of Event Horizon about the place, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that a scan of the credits reveals Paul W. S. “everything I touch turns to ash” Anderson on board as producer, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why this high-concept deep space chiller is so painfully derivative.
What a neat idea it must seem to start your horror movie in the middle. To drop both character and viewer head first into a labyrinthine nightmare of dimly lit interiors and locked airtight doors, with only random electrical outages and the constant wail of the creaking, tortured ship for company. Pre-credits we learn that this ship is the Elysium. A glorified cargo vessel pre-programmed in 2174 to carry the cryogenically frozen last remnants of humanity towards an Earth like planet discovered on the far side of the galaxy, after Earth itself collapsed under the strain of sustaining a population north of 24 billion people.
But that’s all we know; and that’s all Cpl. Bower (Ben Wade, doing his level best) knows having been awoken as part of crew rotation aboard this seemingly deserted ship the size of a town with no memory of his identity or the mission. Together with Lt. Peyton (Dennis Quaid, should do better), also up and about, they set about regaining control of the ship’s reactor. Only they’re not exactly alone. It’s a set-up teaming with promise, but with just one teeny, tiny, little flaw. If we don’t know what’s going on then you’re left with little option but to have the characters essentially run around and explain to plot to each other for our benefit.
Key plot points – like what Pandorum is (it’s a form of psychosis brought on by prolonged deep space voyages, kind of like the one they’re on) – are meted out in really clunky, unnatural exchanges like: “Pandorum…man, you just had to remind me of the worst space disaster on record,” which is not nearly as satisfying as watching a good story told well. So something is clearly up, they’ve obviously been in stasis way longer than intended, and a large portion of the crew and passengers appear to have evolved into something terrible.
But that’s all guesswork, as Alvart is buggered if he is going to clarify matters, and neither are the scattered survivors Bower encounters. In fact nowhere else outside of Lost can characters witness firsthand the weirdest, most disturbing shit and then be placated by: “I don’t have time to explain.” No, sorry! A group of marauding, neon blue Golum looking things with spears just tore that guy’s head off and ate it. Explain, and explain now.
In the end it’s the trading of context for manufactured suspense that kills Pandorum. Being intrigued is one thing, being downright confused is entirely something else. Post-Apocalyptic themes only work when they can be measured against what has been lost. That’s why the use of iconic landmarks in these kind of stories is so popular and so vital. Watching tribalistic cannibals run rampage through New York, or take over all of Scotland like in Neil Marshall's Doomsday is affecting. Here its like: “Oh no, they have taken over…the big ship…thing…that we’re not really sure what it is or where its going…" which is somehow not nearly so troubling, sorry.
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse
Director: Christian Alvart
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Distributor: Overture Films