Christian Alvart’s Pandorum is an attempt to tap into the science-fiction realm of paranoid claustrophobia while still maintaining an accessible veneer of an aggressive sound mix along with the usual modern, new age horror tactics. The result is a preposterous amalgamation of a psychological sci-fi horror-action film which is so flaccid and loopy that you’ll be shocked it isn’t based on a video game. After all, Travis Milloy’s script displays all the necessary characteristics of an adaptation; equal parts uninspired and tediously dim-witted. It’s more “Dead Space” than Alien, without any of the formers ingenuity or instinctive feel for atmosphere and legitimate dread.
In the film’s opening prologue, we are informed through a time-lapse that Earth is becoming overpopulated and under-resourced to the point of extinction. It is the year 2174 when we are given a glimpse at the Elysium, a thoroughly extensive ship capable of carrying thousands of willing human beings – where to and what for? Well, surely our two protagonists will know, right?
Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from hypersleep to an apparently abandoned ship, his clothes almost molded to his body, which are discarded the way a snake would shed its skin. After grazing for signs of life and a quick, blade-free shave, Bower is treated to the company of a Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), who is awoken in similar fashion. The problem is that the two can’t remember anything besides their instinctive training – no memory of the mission, family, time, date, etc.
Conveniently, the one thing that the Corporal can remember is a psychological side effect of emerging from hypersleep in deep space called ‘pandorum’, which causes its victim to experience severe paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations. After discovering that the door to the bridge must be opened, Bower climbs through the vent system and with the voice guidance of Lt. Payton, finds more than he bargained for on the other side, along with a feisty temptress named Nadia (Antje Traue).
Along the way, Pandorum slowly reveals (as the characters regain lost memory) certain aspects of Bower’s pre-Elysium existence and the crisis facing all of mankind. As a result, the film is heavy on back story and light on interpretation. Sometimes I just wanted the film to shut up for a second, but when it isn’t bending over backwards trying to explain itself, it’s parading scene after scene of supposedly pulse-pounding action like a dagger to the sternum.
There is no sense of intended paranoia, anxiety or claustrophobia because the filmmaking is just inconsistent, unfocused and bumpy – shifting from psychological horror to Resident Evil action to descriptive end-of-the-world shenanigans. By the time a disheveled and dishonest cook named Leland (Eddie Rouse) shows up, Pandorum has crossed over into a full-blown mess all the way to its disappointing climax.
Ben Foster (Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma) is an actor who always plays psychotic blood-boilers with short fuses and wide-eyed stares. Here, he’s not even given the confines of his own typecasting. He barely even registers a blip on the radar and not even obvious attempts at humanizing him through flashbacks can help matters. Dennis Quaid is still in an extended, almost Nicolas Cage-like slump of ineptitude. You almost have to go back to Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven to find his last memorable performance.
But you’ll forgive the two lads for coming up with something so uninspiring given the material, which offers plenty of promise and no execution. Despite its best efforts to shake things up and deliver a bloodcurdling, moody piece of horror interlaced with psychosomatic undercurrents, Pandorum pulls off neither. Instead, it boils down to the equivalent of a second-rate survival-horror action game with one too many cut-scenes.