‘Pandorum’ chills to the core
Magnificent desolation - Buzz Aldrin’s lyrical description of the moonscape, as seen from its lonesome surface - has inspired poets and artists. But to science-fiction filmmakers and writers, the phrase usually inspires terror. Travel to Mars, the stars, and beyond often risks a killer case of space madness. So it goes, screamingly, in “Pandorum,’’ a highly effective sci-fi thriller set during a 2174 mission to colonize a far-off, newly discovered Earth-like planet.
One crewman (Ben Foster) revives from deep hypersleep into a nightmare. The ship is ominously dark, its reactor broken. Bad signs - spiders in the air shafts! Oozing crud on the walls! - ought to alert the crew, if not the audience, that they’ve slumbered too long. Despite help from the ranking officer (Dennis Quaid), the crisis worsens. It’s testament to Quaid’s skill as an actor that he seems genuinely creeped out by the situation, even though he’s played astronauts so often he seems qualified to pilot the space shuttle.
More disconcerting are the dreadful growls coming from deep within the craft’s shadowy metallic corridors. Could these be symptoms of what the movie calls Pandorum madness - the demons of the mind, demons mutated and escaped from a genetic storage facility, or something worse?
Naturally, it’s something worse.
Director Christian Alvart and screenwriter Travis Malloy must have seen “Aliens’’ in the cradle, for they’ve digested it with love and delivered smart thrills that will please more than genre fans. The filmmakers understand the difference between cheap shocks of gruesome discovery and the shudder that comes when a character casts a backward half-look over the shoulder toward terrors more familiar.
As one doomed character warns, pointing at the hero’s gun before fleeing into the recesses of the spaceship, “That’s not going to save you.’’
“Pandorum’’ is a dark, disquieting dream worth watching out for.