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“It’s safe to wake up now” – A Review of Pandorum

3/5 Stars

Prior experience watching movies of the hammy horror genre may make viewers a little nervous about going to see “Pandorum.” All the trailers and teasers showing men screaming as they are dragged away by weird looking monsters in dark hallways may lead audiences to expect the film to fit right in with the rest of the cliché, plotless flicks currently being released.
True to form, the ticket taker cautions, “I would usually say enjoy, but….” he trails off, smiling with an almost pitying look. The empty theater compounds the feeling of intense caution mixed faintly with dread. Then the film opens with a depressing list of dates detailing the overpopulation of the Earth and the expiring resources hardly able to support such a population. Surprisingly, the film isn’t as bad as one might think.

In the year 2174, a ship is launched from Earth in order to reach Tanis, a planet believed to provide suitable conditions for human habitation. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned as Pandorum, an unknown disease, grips the crew.
“Pandorum” follows Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), a flight crew member recently awakened from hypersleep. Bower, joined by the only other crew member he sees, Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), decides to search the ship for any other crew, and to restart the reactor in order to get the ship working. Bower quickly discovers that they are not alone, as he soon enters a desperate race to save his life, pursued by monstrous creatures.

While following Payton’s directions via telecommunication devices, Bower encounters two other humans, Manh (Cung Le), from the Agriculture crew, and Nadia (Antje Traue), a biologist in charge of the Noah’s Ark-type animal collection on board. Meanwhile, Payton finds a flight crew member named Gallo (Cam Gigandet), whose mysterious story is gradually revealed as the film continues.
“Pandorum” welcomes the familiar faces of Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid, and introduces some new, unlikely actors. Although Cung Le, a kickboxing superstar from Vietnam, communicates nonverbally in the film due to language barriers between his character Manh and Bower, his fighting prowess speaks for him. Le engages the lead villain in a one-on-one, action-packed battle in the end of the film that can only be described as ridiculous.

Antje Traue, the actress playing Nadia, the female lead, has appeared in a handful of German films and television series, but makes her first American film appearance in “Pandorum”. Eddie Rouse, a supporting actor from “Pineapple Express” and “Observe and Report,” also lends his talent as Leland, a crazy chef reduced to surviving by any means possible.

Quaid effortlessly pulls off the old, experienced leader, who merely provides advice and adds little to the development of the plot. While neither deplorable, nor admirable, Quaid acts as he always does, and delivers a believable performance.

Ben Foster, of “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “3:10 to Yuma,” leads the cast in a stunning performance. Foster connects to his character, and honestly portrays a vulnerable, but determined man fighting for his life. Foster proves he can handle a lead role, even though it is a horror film. His performance manages to penetrate stereotypes of the genre as notorious for poor acting and weak plotlines.

Surprisingly, the most impressive acting came from Cam Gigandet, who portrayed Gallo, a man driven to Pandorum, a severe psychological disorder, by the final transmission from the doomed and dying planet Earth saying, “You’re all that’s left of us”. Gigandet is practically unrecognizable from his previous role as the villain James in “Twilight.” Gigandet captures the insanity of his character, and provides one of the few “oh my!” moments in the film. Deftly switching from innocent crew member to paranoid lunatic to humorous villain, Gigandet rounds out an unexpectedly well-cast ensemble for such a fantastic thriller.

In addition to its cast, “Pandorum” remains a unique and entertaining thriller due to its complex set and elaborate narrative. The events in “Pandorum” take place across the length of the ship, allowing the characters to encounter a variety of obstacles, while further developing the plotline. Director Christian Alvart and set designer Richard Bridgland create an entirely new and realistic world in the film and take full advantage of the scenes the screenplay presented.

As a German-American collaboration, “Pandorum” harnesses the master artistry the Germans provide, as well as the vibrant energy that Hollywood allows. Unlike many other low budget, Hollywood horror films, “Pandorum” stands out as a horror film with a highly elaborate plot. It is so foreign and unique that audiences won’t be able to quite predict the ending.

It clearly presents a goal for its characters, whose dual mission is to prevent the extinction of the human race and to find a way to their new home planet Tanis. However, as events unfold, their journey to Tanis proves a tricky and ever-changing one.

“Pandorum” embraces “Ah-ha!” moments without making them seem predictable or even cliché. At the same time, the entire ending is memorable due to its deviation from traditional horror films. Although the good guy lives and the bad guy dies (after all, this is Hollywood) the audience won’t be able to pinpoint who, or what, exactly the “bad guy” is until they see the film to completion.
“Pandorum” will be a pleasant surprise for movie-goers expecting just another horror film. The combination of acting, set design, and plot easily erase the unoriginal design of the creatures and the exaggerated, and more than a bit tiresome, performance by Dennis Quaid. “Pandorum” is definitely not a film to miss.

Nora Drapalski can be reached at ndrapals@student.umass.edu.

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