We’re coming out of lean times as far as moviegoing goes. As August winds down and well into September, typically the dregs of the season are released: Summer films that everyone thinks will flop, Award-season films that won’t win any awards, horror movies that can’t compete at Halloween, and so on.
That means that an occasional breakout success cleans up—it has no serious competition—though we haven’t seen that this year. But it’s a challenge for the regular moviegoer.
From this bleak desert we wandered into Pandorum, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi old-dark-house road-trip monster movie, starring Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid.
The story is simple, but perhaps I shouldn’t describe too much. Basically Payton and Bower (Quaid and Foster, respectively) wake up on their way to a distant world, but with no memory of who they are or what their mission is. OK, no need to panic since memory loss is a side-effect of hypersleep—but a little more disturbing when they realized they weren’t woken up by the previous shift. And the power is down. And they can’t get out of their sleep area.
That’s the sci-fi and old-dark-house part.
Shortly thereafter, they find the ship overrun by monsters. That’s the monster movie part.
Foster realizes he has to get to the reactor and restart it before it shuts down for good, and he finds some other awoken folks to accompany him: Road Trip!
And, oh, the movie starts with a series of rather grim statements about earth in the upcoming years, then goes to a picture of a crew on the bridge of the ship receiving a message from earth that says “You’re the last of us.” So, yeah, you can figure out the post-Apocalyptic part.
In fact, there are a couple of “reveals” like that later on in the movie where you’re thinking, “OK, not shocking since you showed that in the first fifteen minutes,” but this is well-directed and acted to the point where you sort of empathize for the characters: They didn’t know it. (Came in late to the movie, as it were.)
This sort of evokes Moon though without the shoestring budget. It still feels kind of cheap but—I don’t know, is $40M cheap these days? Kind of seems like a lot to spend on a movie with no hot stars and no promotion/marketing budget. I hadn’t even heard of this film.
It also saves its minimal corporate bashing for the beginning of the movie. There are intimations that corporations are behind all the world’s problems, but nothing to get hung up on.
As I mentioned, a lot of the reveals aren’t very revealing. And a lot of the tension I felt came from worrying they were going to screw the whole thing up. The titular Pandorum is, like, the “space willies”. So there’s a lot of question about who is crazy and who isn’t, and it has a big impact on how you perceive the story.
You might even, at the end, wonder if the whole thing’s a hallucination. But that’s reaching.
The boy proclaimed it very, very good, and particularly because the ending didn’t suck.
Sci-Old Dark House movies (Alien, Event Horizon, Sunshine) very often end badly. This looked like it was going to take one of those bad endings. About six times, actually. And one of the resolutions was sort of disappointing.
But overall, the spooky stuff works pretty well, the action works pretty well, the adventure works pretty well—though it’s all a bit familiar by now—and the plot (also well-worn) plays the right balance of tension and gratuitously-twisty-ending to come out in a satisfying fashion, which is rare.
Foster is good, Quaid is…Quaid, the other supporting actors are quite good, though most of the notice is going to go to Antje Traue, who’s like a German Kate Beckinsale with curves.
In short, this was a pleasant little surprise of a movie, I mean, if you don’t rule out cannibalism, monsters, murder, insanity and treachery from your “pleasant surprise” entertainment.