Friday, January 22, 2010

Pandorum (2009) review: Drifting in space, suffocating in a vent, hellish freaks on the prowl. Oh My!

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Effective combination of drama and mystery, highly suspenseful, sleek production designs

The Bad: Draws too much from existing movies, unoriginal premise, fragmented re-telling of backstory and erratic pacing of narrative.

Current Availability Status: On DVDs in all Major video stores

Science Fiction horror has more or less come to a standstill. Seriously, how many times can you retell a story involving people getting killed off on a dark foreboding spaceship? Pandorum is not spared that "unoriginal" stereotype that has plagued so many films in this genre ever since Ridley Scott's "Alien".

Simply put, Pandorum is "Event Horizon" meets "Resident Evil"(surprise surprise, the producers DID make both those films) by way of "I Am Legend". In deep space, on board the colony vessel Elysium, astronauts Bower and Payton are awoken from hyper-sleep only to be confronted with a dark empty room, signs of struggle, irregular power surges and the mysterious disappearance of the other crew members. Suffering from mild memory loss, Bower volunteers to journey deep into the bowels of the ship and restore power at the main reactor so that they can access the main bridge while Payton guides him over the radio. Along the way, Payton warns Bower of "Pandorum" which is a psychological condition brought about by intense emotional reaction after long periods of suspended animation. Symptoms include vivid hallucinations, paranoia and even homicidal tendencies. No sooner has this been said, Bower gets thrust into a nightmare of claustrophobic vents, hellish cannibalistic creatures(that honestly look more like nose-less clowns doing the tribal routine) and other human survivors who have "gone native". Payton too has to deal with his discovery of a stowaway, Gallo, who may hold the answers to the all that is happening on the ship.

Amniesic protagonist, someone with a hidden past and agenda, kick butt warrior woman, blood thirsty mutants, hell on a spaceship.... all highly familiar to anyone who has at least heard of the science fiction horror sub-genre. Which brings us to the first thing that this movie, unoriginal though it may be, does right. It teases that audience constantly about the ambiguous nature of the main characters' encounters. Are the horrors that Bower experiences real or are they just manifestations of his Pandorum symptoms? That question is left up to the audience to put together, interprete and decide. In the same way the tragic backstory of the Elysium mission is revealed in bits and pieces for Bower and Payton to put together.

Though the film has some narrative shortcomings in the unimpressive script, it makes up for it thanks to the director's eye for style and detail. Christian Alvart excels at conveying the same sense of fear and hysteria experienced by Bower through effective cinematography and tight close-up shots. His camera-work never fails highlight the production design of the Elysium's interior which is both spectacular and menacing to behold, as if the ship itself had mutated along with the creatures residing in its bowels. The decision to let the whole mystery be played out slowly as the astronauts try to piece together what transpired on the Elysium works after a while and manages to maintain a chilling air of suspense right up to the big twist.

Both Ben foster and Dennis Quaid who play the two astronauts manage to put on a convincing and multi layered performance with "New Moon"'s Cam Gigandet stealing the show as a man slowly going over the deep end. Such rich characters are a rarity in horror movies nowadays. With so many films falling back on the usual stock one-dimensional ones, this is a refreshing change.

Thoughs suspenseful, Pandorum is severely hampered by its lack of actual scares and lack of action packed thrills. It is indecisiveness as to whether it should be a horror show or action movie. Also, the film had so much potential to delve into deeper elements of the human psychology and allow the audience to get into the mind of the paranoid. But alas, that was not so, which leaves Pandorum as brain dead as the savage cannibalistic creatures.
**********fan rant******
There is even a part about one man "having his way" with the other sleeping crew as he succumbs to the loneliness of deep space travel; again a lot of potential for expansion into a parable about the inherant potential for evil when placed in a lawless situation with no one else to judge your actions but in the end, it is merely left as a passing anecdote.
*********fan rant end*********

Long time sci/fi fans will know what to expect and will most likely be let down, but hopefully this film can entice newcomers to the genre who would then go on to check out some of the better sci/fi horror films out there.

While it is a decent attempt at reinvigorating a waning sub-genre, Pandorum is sadly boxed in by the reputation of its predecessors and suffocates under its derivative elements. Ultimately, like some lost vessel drifting in space, it would disappears into darkness or at least garner a small cult following here on earth.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like a good mix of familiar movie elements and a brain teasing air of mystery in a film. Or if you are wondering what the big deal is about science fiction horror movies.
Avoid it: if you are a fan of other Sci/Fi horror movies like Event Horizon and Alien and just cannot resist comparing Pandorum to the others.

Entertainment: B-
Story: B
Acting: A-
Characters: A-
Music: C+
Replay value: B
"Brains": C+

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