Horror movies set in space inevitably draw comparisons to the Alien Franchise – what else is there to compare to? Jason X? Somewhere between that zenith and nadir lies everything else. It’s a sub-genre or setting which has seen some resurgence in the last decade, but one which nevertheless feels underused. I would assume the very nature of the setting would send budgets skyrocketing. Pandorum is somewhere closer to Event Horizon on the scale and like that 90’s cult hit it raises a lot of ideas and questions, yet tends to frustrate more often than it delights.
Pandorum is a film which ultimately frustrates more than it delights. While it seems to know what it wants to be, the clashing of genres and ideas along with a few unusual choices, prevent the film from being entirely coherent and enjoyable. Starting off with the casting, we have Dennis Quaid – an everyman actor who most wouldn’t consider to be an A-Lister, but someone who has plenty of hits under his belt and is respected. Playing alongside him is Ben Foster, who I consider to be the finest actor of his generation yet seems fated to never break through to the mainstream or critical recognition he deserves. The film largely follows this pair for the bulk of the film, with a couple of curious cameos to keep things from being too stilted. Both actors carry the film well, but based on their names alone it would be difficult to pull in a huge audience.
Looking next at the story – you’d be forgiven for thinking this is an all out space horror movie, with scares, monsters, action – but it’s both more claustrophobic and appeals to the internal rather than the visceral. There is action, but it’s spread unevenly between bouts of dialogue, philosophy, and procedure – there is horror, but it’s closely knit to those moments of action. It’s part survival, part mystery, and I wasn’t convinced that the two mesh successfully. I’m fully prepared to stand in the minority on this and I know there will be plenty of dedicated fans after watching – for me, I wanted a little more tension in both the survival and action aspects. The script has a lot to say, but traps its more interesting aspects under what is ultimately an unsatisfying story more dependent on its central twist. Again, it’s difficult to see what sort of audience the film was meant to draw.
Where the film does mostly succeed is in its interior designs – the craft itself is slimy and dark, labyrinthine, and filled with endless corridors and connecting pits and crawlspaces. Director Christian Alvart does his best work in the scenes of our survivors traversing the giant ship in various fetch quests, allowing the sense of mammoth scale to collide with the ironic claustrophobia of being alone. Effects wise – it’s not a huge budget film, but both CG, practical, and make-up are good for what they could achieve.
While I don’t think the movie is ‘good’, I don’t believe it deserved the critical and commercial drubbing it received. It’s fine as a cult film and it’s strong enough that it has and should continue to find fans – at the very least it should have made back its budget, but whether or not it is deserving of the rumoured sequels or prequels I’ll leave up to you. It’s another interesting space-horror film which doesn’t hit the mark, but which is worth catching for Sci-Fi fans still hoping to fill that post-Alien, post-Pitch Black void.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Pandorum!