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Scares flow in 'Pandorum'

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Scares flow in 'Pandorum'

"Santa? Is that you?" Dennis Quaid stars in 'Pandorum.'

Space has always been a great setting for horror films, mainly because we know so little about it. Anything is plausible when people leave earth because we can't logic our way out of it - we know that shooting Michael Myers in the head would kill him, but we don't know that there aren't unimaginable horrors waiting for us somewhere in the stars.

Pandorum plays on these ideas, but it's so much more than just another horror set aboard a dark and dreary spaceship. It starts with two confused characters that have no clue as to what is going on and slowly reveals the truth - keeping the viewer out of the loop until the characters find out. It flows perfectly, looks great and is downright scary throughout - horror films this good are few and far between.

Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma) and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) star as two men who wake up with no memory after an extended hypersleep. The power on their ship is almost entirely off, except for a large surge every few minutes, and neither knows what their mission is or where they are.

The doors won't open, so Bower (Foster) climbs through a ventilation shaft into the rest of the ship, while Payton (Quaid) attempts to guide him to the nuclear reactor, which Bower believes he can fix. Once out of headquarters, however, Bower finds that the ship is virtually devoid of life - except for cannibalistic, human-like monsters that run like dogs and tear everything they see limb from limb. The reactor is about to blow, as well, so Bower has limited time to make his way through the ship to prevent a total shutdown.

The plot unfolds at just the right pace, unleashing new surprises every few minutes throughout the film. Aside from pacing, however, director Christian Alvart strings together several wonderful scenes built on suspense.

Alvart doesn't fill Pandorum full of gruesome, gory images, instead limiting the violence to very brief shots. Alvart knows what many horror directors don't - that gore isn't scary - and instead provides his scares with odd noises from the ceiling, shots with virtually no lighting and a couple great standoffs between the heroes and the monsters. Despite the horrid creatures that control the ship, Alvart knows that it's their presence - and not their violent actions - that built true suspense, and Pandorum succeeds with flying colors.

The film also owes a great deal to set designer Barnhard Henrich (Valkyrie) and cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff (Igby Goes Down), whose combined efforts create a frightening, high-tech madhouse. It's always dark aboard the ship and each hallway looks the same, making Bower's quest all the more difficult.

Foster and Quaid both give fantastic performances, even though we've come to expect it from Quaid. For Foster, it's a revelation - after great supporting performances in Liberty Heights, Yuma and the underrated Alpha Dog, he proves in Pandorum he has the talent to carry a film and the bravery to pick daring projects.

My only complaint with Pandorum involves some of the action scenes, which feature rapid-fire cuts and shaky photography. This style can occasionally prove effective - such as the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan - but generally just confuse viewers. One battle scene, pitting Bower and two friends against a single monster, is downright incoherent.

This complaint is small, however, when compared with how much Pandorum does well. It's one of those elusive excellent horror films - let's face it, 90 percent are terrible and another 8 percent are bad - and it's smart and fun, too. Anyone who enjoys horror films - or especially people that used to like horror films, but got sick of all the garbage - should get out and enjoy this one before it's gone.

Pandorum is rated R for strong horror violence and language. It is currently playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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