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Very Atmospheric and Claustrophobic Sci-Fi Horror Film

  • Sep 27, 2009

Since the inception of “Alien”, there have been many attempts at a cross-blending in genres of science fiction and horror. I guess there is just nothing scarier than being stuck in space with no place to run to. “PANDORUM” is a collaboration between American and German filmmakers to make a sci-fi horror film. Directed/co-written by Christian Alvart (Anti-Bodies) with screenplay by Travis Milloy, the film is full of slick European claustrophobic atmosphere that is a journey through the depths of the human psyche.
In the far distant future, the Earth had become vastly overpopulated that humankind has resorted in trying to locate a new habitable planet. When a planet is finally found that closely resembled mother Earth, a gigantic ship called the Elysium is sent with its 60,000 passengers to inhabit the new world. Now aboard the ship, two astronauts, Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) are forcefully awakened out of hyper-sleep, they are disoriented with little memory of what had gone before save for their mission, as they find the huge ship seemingly with little power and no other crew members. Exploring the spacecraft, they find that something terrible may have happened that can affect the human race. Setting out to find answers and to reset the reactor, Bowers encounters other crew members (sexy Antje Traue and Cung Le are among them) who are fleeing from mutated cannibalistic inhuman creatures that are stalking the bowels of the ship. To make things worst, there is also the madness called “Pandorum”….
“Pandorum” is directed by Christian Alvart, whose previous work called “AntiBodies” have impressed me; so naturally, I would be very curious to see how he manages to pull off a sci-fi horror film. The movie borrows heavily from other sci-fi horror thrillers such as “Event Horizon”, “Eden Log”, “Sunshine” and even the horror thriller “The Descent”. The film brings about the horrors of space travel, the alienation and fear that can arise from it, and the collapse of the psyche. While most sci-fi horror films are basically a descent into a hellish journey, “Pandorum” also brings about certain “trippy” mind games aside from the usual perils of being killed and eaten alive.
Ben Foster as Bower in "Pandorum."
If claustrophobia has a name, it has to be Christian Alvart. The man definitely knows how to generate extreme discomfort and panic. The film has a manner in playing the right mood, feel and atmosphere to freak the viewer out with the isolated narrow set designs, the tight confines are easily felt by the viewer. It is easy to sympathize with the characters in their situation, the viewer is effectively brought into this world full of dark steamy corridors, wet and dank environment that has that ominous feel. The film is more of a haunted house experience than an actual monster-chase film, there are some nicely timed scares but it is rather uneven in its execution. There are several freaky images that provided its visceral impact, and I have to admit the film does manage to generate some decent suspense; hey, the film has several sequences of action and even blood and gore; yes, the old-fashioned type with little uitlization of CGI enhancements. The creature designs have that very pale-faced look reminiscent of “The Descent” with the “Mad Max” enhancements. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it is time to breakdown the film’s plot and screenplay.
The plot itself is very interesting, the idea of making a perilous long journey has a lot of potential. It asks the right questions as to who…what….where?, and the viewer can easily become eager to see the resolution. The first half of the film starts off strongly, as I became very intrigued as to what happened to the crew. The explanation itself is credible enough, after all, we all know the theories of evolution. I also liked the sexy girl warrior Nadia (Antje Traue) and the stoic Manh (Cung Le), even the hunter leader (played by Andre Hennicke) is pretty creepy and intimidating. The place it falters is the way it structured the film, it seems to be taking its time trying to explain things, give the film a mythic feel, all the while trying to make it more complex than it really is. In a film set in outer space it is a good idea to keep the pace quick and tight, while keeping the viewer busy with scenes of raw emotion and suspense. I like emotions in my horror films, but this movie may just be too full of ‘in-your-face’ emotions that some scenes felt a little too heavy for a film this predictable. The problem is, when there are no creatures the film almost stops to a crawl.

Dennis Quaid as Payton in "Pandorum."
Ben Foster (30 Days of Night) is pretty ok as the main protagonist, but I sure wished his supporting cast was more fleshed out. Dennis Quaid does his role with minimum effort. Nadia is the character with the most potential, but she was a little undermined with the display of human angst. There are also some underlying questions as to how long they managed to survive this long; there are also several holes in the script. (after all the mission log says that a certain amount of time had elapsed) Cam Gigandet (Never Back Down) has the most crucial role in the film, but I found his performance to be lackluster.
“Pandorum” does have its fair share of decent twists and turns, the film started off strong but it began to wear thin the more it went along. Alvart does try to add some needed intricacies to the film’s otherwise predictable plot, but it felt a little too forced. Alvart did manage to provide some spooky atmosphere, freaky images and some good thrills, but the film felt very superficial. The movie is just derivative of other films in sci-fi horror. The climax felt more like a irrevocability than an actual resolution to the film’s plot.
Recommended very timidly, Rent It first [3-Stars]

poster hypersleep Elysium Space Ship Nadia flee Poster

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October 02, 2009
This one doesn't sound too bad. I prolly won't see it right away as trips to the movie theatres are getting rather costly & I'm on a shoestring budget but I'll add it to the ever growing list. I saw the advertisement not too long ago but wasn't sure if this would be up my alley or not. Great review!
September 27, 2009
I think I've got this one figured out with your comparison to THE DESCENT and your mention of evolution. Ya seen one haunted house space movie, ya seen 'em all.
September 27, 2009
Yep, the script tries to make it a little more complex but in the end it was very predictable. The film's atmosphere is damn creepy though and I have to admit, I liked some parts of it. How'd you feel about EVENT HORIZON?
September 27, 2009
I think I was zonked out when I saw it because I don't even remember it. I've got it on my list to see again.
September 29, 2009
JRider wants a review of LIFEBOAT from the Queen!!
September 29, 2009
That was so long ago that I doubt that I remember enough to do one.
September 27, 2009
Wow- what an interesting review of a film I thought I had figured out (but was way wrong)! I especially liked your comparison with "Event Horizon"; another title that gets a bum rep but succeeds on several levels (kind of like "Sunshine"). Have you ever seen a piece by Alfred Hitchcock originally titled "Lifeboat" then reimagined as "Lifepod" for the space scenario? This sounds a bit like that in terms of psychological torment and setting. Great work as always Woop!
September 27, 2009
I also liked EVENT HORIZON, I thought it was pretty good although flawed in some areas. Funny you mentioned SUNSHINE, I know I owe you a review of Boyle's scif-fi thriller. I have seen LIFEBOAT but it was long ago, I need to re-visit. Thanks again, buddy!
September 27, 2009
I saw that one. Ron Silver was in it.
September 28, 2009
Yes that's right! Ron Silver nailed it. What did you think of that picture QueenB? I actually thought it was pretty darn solid considering its budget/ made-for-tv quality. I would love a full QBF review of that one!!
More Pandorum (2009 movie) reviews
review by . February 10, 2010
Deceptively Good,
At first glance, Pandorum looks just like the mediocre sci-fi horror films that have hit theaters over the past few years.  With a lackluster trailer and a not so great marketing campaign, it was shocking when I found myself actually enjoying the film.  From the minute the main titles rolled, Pandorum brought me back to 1997's Event Horizon, a film that will forever in my opinion be the scariest movie of all time.  With dark, broody, almost steampunk like sets, I was geared up to …
review by . August 07, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
There's nothing terribly new in PANDORUM. It's 150 years in the future, and the earth is dangerously overpopulated, and have sent a gigantic spacecraft into space with 16,000 people in suspended animation, with the idea of reaching a new planet that looks suitable for human life and saving the human race. But things haven't gone exactly right...a disease that causes madness (the titular Pandorum) has ravaged much of the crew and many of the people on the ship have evolved into super-tough but super-ugly …
review by . September 30, 2009
   of money, time and talented actors. A movie made w/o lights. CG that looked like a videoi game. Quick cut action so you couldn't see or tell what was happening. Stay home.
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About this movie


Poster art for "Pandorum."

Pandorum is a 2009 science fiction horror film written by Travis Milloy and directed by Christian Alvart. The film stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster. Filming began in Berlin in August 2008. Pandorum was released on September 25, 2009 in the United States, and on October 2, 2009 in the UK.

An astronaut, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), wakes up from suspended hibernation to find himself alone, with no memory of who he is, what he is doing, or what happened to the crew of the 60,000 passenger sleeper ship, Elysium. He proceeds to wake up Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), who is also suffering from memory loss. They are unable to access the ship's bridge and cannot communicate with any other members of the crew, including the flight crew team who they are supposed to relieve.

While exploring the spacecraft under Payton's radio guidance, Bower talks with Payton about Pandorum, a psychological condition brought on by extended periods of deep-space travel and hyper-sleep. Its symptoms and effects include severe paranoia, vivid hallucinations, and homicidal tendencies. Payton tells of another ship in which a single flight crew member, affected by Pandorum, jettisoned every crew member into space, killing five thousand.

As Bower continues on, he encounters dead bodies and fast-moving humanoid creatures. Escaping from one of them, he then encounters other human survivors, Manh (Cung Le) and Nadia (Antje Traue); they work together to reach the ship's nuclear reactor. Bower...

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Director: Christian Alvart
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: 25 September 2009 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Travis Milloy
DVD Release Date: January 19, 2010
Runtime: 108 minutes
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
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