Published Sep 25, 2009A Darwinian nightmare and psychotic head-trip, Pandorum is that rare blend of science fiction and horror that actually works. After a quick rundown on the dire state of humanity by the year 2174, followed by some exterior space ship shots that call to mind the harsh, practical beauty of the designs in Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, a man awakens, screaming, in a hyper-sleep tube.
Tension begins to build immediately, partly via clever editing ― the screaming is silent when the camera is looking at the tubes from the outside ― and partly due to Ben Foster's tortured portrayal of the awakening man, Bower. Waking from hyper-sleep isn't a pretty process ― fluid tubes are pulled out; a shrink-wrapped second skin is pulled off; nausea, dizziness and almost complete memory loss are also part of the package. Bower only knows his name at first because it's written on his tube.
A second man awakens in a tube labelled "Payton" and he and Bower begin trying to figure out why they're locked in a small room, what happened to the rest of the crew and why the reactor core is emitting power surges. Dennis Quaid is great as the haggard and confused Payton, but Ben Foster is clearly the star of the film, in screen time and presence.
Shit gets crazy quickly as Christian Alvart puts his audience through delightful hell with his first seriously budgeted film. There's a sense of humour, as far as the characters can remain jovial under the conditions early on, but after Bower gets a taste of what's happening on the ship, it's a gruesome, jolt-filled, ultra-tense and ultimately, badass hybrid of freaky sci-fi.
It may not be utterly original, in a 2001 sort of way, but in Pandorum, themes of evolution run so deep that historical genre references work in service of the story. Pandorum somehow manages to evoke Sunshine, The Descent and what Aliens might have been like with Ridley Scott behind the camera all at once without becoming jumbled, cheeky or pandering, while also delivering more plot twists than a career's worth of Shyamalan endings.
Channelling the hard sci-fi of Arthur C. Clarke and twisted horror of Clive Barker, Christian Alvart has marked himself as a director to watch and crafted a truly harrowing and surprisingly grounded picture with major potential for a serious cult following. (Alliance)