Cult Cinema: Pandorum (2009) - Reviewed

Some twelve years after Event Horizon opened to meager box office returns before developing a cult following on home video, writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson was briefly reunited with space horror in director Christian Alvart’s 2009 sci-fi thriller Pandorum.  Bringing Anderson on board as a producer alongside Event Horizon co-producer Jeremy Bolt, the British-German produced Pandorum like Anderson’s previous brush with space horror came and went largely unnoticed before garnering a fanbase as well as presented a premise involving demonic creatures which are either real or of the mind. 

Predating the likes of Passengers and most recently Voyagers, the term Pandorum refers to a form of Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome or in layman’s terms “space madness” triggered by emotional stress in deep space leading to paranoia, delirium and nosebleeds.  Like Interstellar, the film presents a sci-fi universe where the Earth is dying as humans in hypersleep housed in an intergalactic ark drift towards an unknown destination.  Mid-mission, two members of the crew (Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid) wake up too early and discover the ship has been overrun with cannibalistic humanoids feasting on the flesh of the sleeping.  Is it real or just another symptom of the film’s title Pandorum?
A visually striking modestly budgeted science fiction horror film with elements of Alien, Event Horizon and even the popular videogame Dead Space, this ensemble action-horror thriller began initially as a shot-on-video endeavor before ballooning into a fully fledged feature under the direction of Christian Alvart who with screenwriter Travis Milloy melded their two separate screenplays together into what became Pandorum.  As with Event Horizon, the film is constantly flirting with the idea of what we’re seeing could be actually happening or purely imaginary until neither we nor the characters are sure anymore.
Acting wise the cast is fine with Ben Foster inhabiting the role of the hero Corporal Bower though the most overqualified actor in the thing is Dennis Quaid who brings a stature and credibility to the piece it otherwise wouldn’t have had without him.  Also strong are Antje Traue and Cung Le as two inmates who have fought their way through armies of cannibals to survive, carrying on Paul W.S. Anderson’s penchant for the badass femme fatale slicing and dicing her way through mountains of monsters.  Norman Reedus shows up in this too though is tragically underutilized considering the role he would take on in The Walking Dead.

Originally designed as a trilogy, Pandorum opened to middling reviews and fell short of breaking even at the box office and the sequel/prequel franchise plans never came to fruition.  Worse still, the film contributed to the bankruptcy of Overture Films in its wake.  In the years since, however, Pandorum has amassed something of a cult following vying for production on the film’s proposed sequels to be completed.  While it may be years (if ever) that we see more from the Pandorum universe, on its own terms it is a solid science-fiction action-horror thriller made in the vein of Ridley Scott by way of Paul W.S. Anderson.  For many it may be as close to a live action Dead Space movie as we’re likely to ever get.

--Andrew Kotwicki