Publicity has kept us in the dark about Pandorum’s monsters, so what’s it got? Tricks up the sleeve or stuff to hide? Sadly, the logic behind the secrecy relating to Christian Alvart’s sci-fi horror (following his promising Antibodies and tellingly delayed Case 39) looks like damage limitation. Pandorum’s mutants mirror the movie’s misfires: as these foragers and cannibals lurk in darkness before attacking in blurs of ill-defined noise and motion, so the film lingers in the murk for ages only to emerge as a noisy mish-mash of ideas ripped randomly from the guts of better films.
The opening sees astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) waking from hyper-sleep with amnesia and stumbling about in the dark of a rickety spaceship. Where are we? Who are they? Is it bedtime? Far from being crepuscular or creepy, the hook-starved effect of this is enervating because, nifty laser-shave implement aside, there’s nothing of interest to latch on to. Only 10 minutes in, hyper-snooze is already taking hold.
Venturing into the ship’s Nostromo-esque bowels on a fix-it tip, Bower meets the mystery monsters. At this point, Pandorum turns into a shamelessly voracious scavenger itself, playing like The Descent in space via Mad Max or any other post-apocalyptic B-movie with feral hunter-types on the loose. Antje Traue and Cung Le’s additional human survivors add action beats but further scupper definition by piling pastiche on pastiche: which Neil Marshall genre homage has Alvart been studying anyway, the spelunking shocker or Doomsday?
The title refers to a kind of hallucination-inducing outer-space delirium, fittingly for a film with delusions of epic grandeur. Through several well-worn yet ill-integrated plot twists, Travis Milloy’s script strains with portent and Alvart’s visuals target the shadowy poetry of Alien while falling somewhere short of Event Horizon’s grunge hell. Sure, Quaid and Foster give it good shots. But the brightest cast couldn’t illuminate this mess.
After two hours in the dark with this loud but hollow hybrid, you’ll know “space madness”. In a good year for smart sci-fi, Pandorum lumbers and groans. Don’t let the posters delude you into expecting weird chills: thumping banality dominates.