It happens less frequently than I’d like; a contented glow of time well-spent: 103 minutes of hybrid sf/horror that one is happy to place alongside peers such as Event Horizon, the Alien series, The Dark Hour, Pitch Black and…, well there aren’t many more to add to that list. Pandorum is a prime example of learning from what’s gone before and upping the ante to create an effectively tense and challenging experience with an originality all of its own.
Many years from now, as the Earth becomes a nuclear battleground for ownership of its failing resources, the Elysium is sent into deep space with a cargo of 60,000 sleeping people and the DNA of most of the planet’s flora and fauna; a modern ark, maintained by several crews who will be woken-up in turn as the years pass, bound for the single planet that has been identified as earth-like, Tanis; their mission, to start again.
In theory, all the ingredients that should make Dante 01 an effective science fiction / horror hybrid are present; but theory is very different from execution…
Director Marc Caro was one half of the innovative team behind the dark adult fairytales Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children; and his input to that successful collaboration is shown here as he runs solo for the first time: the claustrophobic steely cold environment, the lumbering spacesuits a la Sunshine; the shadowy ship, much like the Event Horizon.
The crucifix-shaped Space Station Dante 01 is a medical experiment; criminally-insane prisoners avoid the death penalty by agreeing to undergo drug trials and observation by a skeleton crew of scientists and security wardens. This uneasy arrangement is rocked when a new and unspeaking inmate, (Lambert Wilson, who played The Merovingian in The Matrix films), arrives under the care of a beautiful scientist, Elisa, who is under orders to test a new nanotechnology-based drug. The new prisoner, nicknamed Saint George, is apparently the sole survivor of an event that wiped out his crew and left him with the gift/curse of seeing inside people’s bodies. As Eliza’s drug kills the inmates, Saint George brings them back to life, seizing hold of the nano-tech virus and eating the infection, healing more than just the drug-induced illness. The prisoners and remaining staff must race against time to save themselves from the self-destructing ship and the determined Elisa.