There is a well-intentioned mystery at the heart of the new sci-fi thriller Pandorum. The problem is that it gets buried under a noisy, derivative mish-mash of earlier space-horror hybrids, including Alien and Event Horizon, not to mention major nods to The Descent, Resident Evil and even 30 Days of Night.
The film begins promisingly enough as astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) of the deep space ship Elysium awake from hyper-sleep to discover the giant vessel apparently empty, dark, and malfunctioning. They’ve been unconscious for so long that at first they can’t remember who they are, nor do they have any idea of what happened to the rest of the passengers on the ship, which is a massive ark carrying the last survivors of a decimated earth to a new home.
As they start to piece things together they realize that the nuclear generator that powers the ship is failing, so Bower ventures out of the control room to reboot the engine, while Payton stays behind to guide him via computer and figure out what happened to the rest of the crew.
But it becomes quickly apparent they are not alone. Somehow along the journey, the ship has become overrun with killer mutants, who move with super fast speed, jumping out of every dark corner to devour anyone in their path.
And that’s not the only problem. Both men may be suffering from Pandorum, a space madness caused by extreme isolation that can turn humans into raving murderous lunatics. So are they really being hunted by monsters, or only monsters of their minds?
Unfortunately, the film Pandorum suffers from it’s own illness, schizophrenia, as it tries to provide the visceral thrills of a 'haunted house in space' movie with the twists and turns of a cerebral psychological thriller, and ends up achieving neither.
Instead we get chase scenes through gritty, grimy corridors and air shafts that all start to look the same. Quaid is stuck with the thankless job of standing in front of a computer console directing traffic, while Foster runs around the bowels of the ship, picking up various survivors along the way. Then a mutant pops out. Then we run some more. Then someone pulls out a glow stick just in time for another mutant attack. It all becomes very tedious, as does the old 'ticking clock' cliché of trying to get to the generators before they grind to a halt.
The monsters themselves are also an unconvincing mix of clichés, combining the physical look of the cave dwellers from The Descent with the fashion sense and weaponry of the baddies from The Road Warrior. They also screech menacingly like the vampires from 30 Days of Night, and cuddle around the engines like the alien hive in Aliens. And that’s the trouble; their familiarity makes them far less terrifying.
Most of the gore involves plunging things into bodies, human and otherwise. Spears into heads, teeth into flesh and on one occasion, a space-age hypodermic needle into an eyeball, but the jiggling camera work and flash frame edits take away from the impact.
Even more disappointing is a surprising lack of special effect “money shots”. Considering that most of the action takes place on a ship the size of a city, we’re never really treated to any kind of huge, awe-inspiring images of scope or scale, like the vertigo-inducing generator rooms of Star Wars or Forbidden Planet.
The producers try hard to make the big plot twist at the end of the film a real mind-bender, but the most satisfying thing about the conclusion is that the movie is finally over.