By Steve Dobritch
September 28, 2009
Billions of miles away from an overpopulated Earth with dwindling resources and awakening years after hyper sleep, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) are humanity’s only hope to keep the human race alive in Christian Alvart and Travis Maloy’s claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, Pandorum.
After a violent awakening, Bower finds himself aboard the Elysium, an enormous cargo ship set for an unknown destination. With his memory slowly coming back to him, (a side effect from the hyper sleep) Corporal Bower knows something is awry when there is no greeting party to update him on the status of himself and the ship. The population and rhetoric is replaced with darkness and confusion, not to mention strange noises and bumps in the distant night. Soon after, now joined by his senior officer Payton who is battling his own amnesia, the duo work their way out of the sealed living quarters to find not only that they are not alone but have become an almost exterminated prey.
The term "pandorum" is described in the film as a deep space sickness. As the isolation and deprivation of contact wears you down to the bone, your rationality and state of humanity go right out the window. Think of it like scurvy. You know—but a lot worse. As the film progresses the feeling of pandorum hangs like an ominous fog surrounding the inhabitants of the ship. As the tension grows the effects of the condition blur the line of reality and fear. An early scene, very reminiscent of the “stuck in a tunnel” scene from The Descent, demonstrates perfectly the effects of their condition and will have anyone even remotely claustrophobic squirming in their seats.
Mixed with one part Event Horizon and one part The Descent, Pandorum hits enough of the right notes to outweigh its shortcomings. Most of the quick cut edits and “shaky cam” chase scenes are nothing new and may even distract from what’s going on in the film, but they are easily made up for by the great atmosphere and fairly good performances by Foster and Quaid.
Even though they’re only onscreen together for only about 15 minutes, both Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid work fairly well together. With Foster taking up much more of the screen time, mainly with the others he meets along the way, his latest “wild man” performance is toned down a bit more than his last. After Alpha Dog and playing the stranger in the 2007 vampire flick 30 Days of Night, Foster gives us a much more controlled and restrained lead.
On the other hand, Quaid shoots for the proverbial moon in his role as Payton. More so in the latter half of the film does he step into the “Sam Neill’s school of crazy” and doesn’t look back. Even though Quaid is stuck in a room by himself for almost the entire film, his scenes still add more than just stark exposition. It’s nice seeing him take some more unique roles lately instead of the stock father or action-ish roles he sticks to mainly. And with his apocalyptic, angel revenge film Legion coming out early next year, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of “crazy” Dennis.
This film is produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of such films as Resident Evil and the earlier noted Event Horizon. And while most of his films garner the appreciation of a fanboy scorned, this time he takes a much-needed step away from the director’s chair and brings us a fresh view of what survival horror can be. With the tension of a dark foreboding hallway and the horror of an only hope gone terribly wrong, Pandorum engulfs you from the very beginning and never lets up.