At first glance “Pandorum” looks like it is going to be a straight up sci-fi action movie, which it certainly is. But in addition to that the film also crosses into monster movie, horror, and psychological thriller territory.
Like in any good futuristic movie, the world has gone to shit. There are now 26 billion people on Earth, resources are scarce enough to cause wars (not that we don’t have wars over things like that now), and things are getting ugly. Humanity needs space to spread out and get away from the neighbors. Luckily for our future counterparts another habitable planet, Tanis, has been found, and the spaceship Elysium is dispatched in order to colonize this new world so we can fuck it up too.
Ben Foster, who is usually pretty good (despite the fact that he is really weird looking), is Bower, a corporal on the flight crew who violently wakes up out of hyper-sleep. Hyper-sleep causes temporary memory loss, but even so, there is something obviously not right, everything is dark and corroded looking. Lieutenant Payton (Dennis “The Lesser Quaid” Quaid) wakes up shortly after Bower. Neither of them have any clue what’s going on, though both quietly demonstrate the preliminary signs of Pandorum, this films version of space madness. It may be physical, it may be psychological, it isn’t 100% clear.
The main power in the ship is off, and Bower crawls out through the ducts to reset the core reactor and get to the bridge so they can figure out what the hell happened. Only when he gets out he finds that things are much, much worse than they originally thought. Swarms of pasty cannibalistic monsters have taken over. Whether they are aliens, mutants, or some other option is unclear, but what is clear is that they are fast and strong and mean as all get out. Fleeing for his life, Bower meets up with Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le), who accompany him on his quest to the reactor.
Director Christian Alvar and co-writer Travis Milloy go on to play with the reality of the situation. They raise questions about what is really going on, who is or isn’t reliable, and whether this new hell is in fact real or a figment of deep space isolation induced imagination. These vague questions that only serve to distract from the main action of the movie.
The intricately claustrophobic interiors of the Elysium look really awesome, and the design is accentuated because the film seems to be lit exclusively by flashlights and glow sticks. It is a gloomy, gritty, desperate environment that makes me think of “Alien” crossed with the cave from “The Descent”, especially the later part of that movie after the monsters show up. (Apologies to anyone who hasn’t seen that movie yet, but really, you don’t have any excuse for ignorance at this point.)
The story also has echoes of “Fight Club”, to its detriment. It is forced, and at this point it feels almost obligatory for movies that want to be psychological suspense tales to toss around the idea of split personalities. Too much time is spent on it for too little payoff, and it is an unnecessary stumbling block.
“Pandorum” isn’t terribly original. As you watch it you can name which elements came from which earlier film. (A cursory list includes the movies already mentioned, as well as “Event Horizon”, the “Resident Evil” movies, and anything that takes place under the surface of the ocean.) It is not as smart as it wants to be. Still, it is worth a look, especially if you’re looking for more action heavy science fiction as opposed to intellectual stimulation. Approach it from that angle and it will be okay. Alvar has a definite talent for the visual aspects of storytelling, so even when the plot comes off of the rails the film looks pretty, and he’s fond of cranking up the tension, which drives the film speedily along.