FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Pandorum

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.

Ben Foster stars as Corporal Bower, woken up from hypersleep to a nearly dead ship with frequent power overloads and little else. He's soon joined by Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) who seems to be remember or know as little as Bower does. The ship they're both on is the Elysium, a transport ship destined for a new Earth-like planet to continue the human race, confined by an Earth now stripped of its resources. 

Trapped in their hypersleep chamber, Bower volunteers to venture in search of the reactor to restart it and get the ship functional again. On his way, he begins to slowly recover his memory and finds dead crew members, live crew members who don't trust him or try to kill him and fierce, humanoid creatures that feed on human flesh.

The first thing I would suggest to people upon watching Pandorum is to check your brightness settings on the device you intend to watch it on. The first 30 minutes or so of this film operate in near-darkness which is, like the film itself, a little bit infuriating but also pretty clever. The amount of light throughout the narrative seems to align with Bower's slowly returning memory; as he fumbles around in the dark with only a basic knowledge of the ship, he has to rely on light sticks to guide him. By the end of the movie, once Bower is fully apprised of the situation and his memory returned, everything is bathed in light. It's a neat trick, but one which makes it a difficult film to get into.

That dark first half hour is a blend of drip-fed plot hints and exposition that slows the pace to an almost glacial level as the clueless Bower starts trying to work out what has happened to his ship. Sci-fi literate audiences will put it together pretty quickly; it's hardly an unoriginal development and once the definition of 'pandorum' is provided, everything slots neatly into place. Unfortunately, Bower's a bit behind you and it takes a while for him to get going. Once he does, however, the film picks up immeasurably.

What starts as a mystery sci-fi thriller transforms itself into a horror as the creatures haunting the ship start to emerge from their hiding places. They're pretty grim creations and the effects work on them is great, holding up a feral, humanoid reflection to our hero as he travels through the ship. The ship itself is the kind of grim industrial-esque setting we're used to in more grimy sci-fi fare, but is used to reflect the decay of the human race within it. Everything feels slightly damaged and untrustworthy whilst the creatures have also booby-trapped the place to hunt down other humans. It's an instantly hostile environment and the film uses it well.

Ben Foster has shown himself to be an excellent character actor on many an occasion and he's a solid lead here, though he isn't too stretched; Bower's a blank slate at first, but it allows Foster to build his humanity as he goes along. Dennis Quaid gets the far meatier part and tears into it, clearly relishing the opportunity to explore his character's more argumentative side. Cam Gigandet also proves he can use those eyes of his to do a mean psycho line and his arrival brings some much needed extremity to Quaid's scenes.

A bit Event Horizon in feel, I think people's reactions to that movie may well predict their reaction to this one. Personally, I love Event Horizon in its own wacky space crazy way and Pandorum takes a while to get going, but once it does, achieves that same level of humane horror, though is perhaps not as fun.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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