What is 'pandorum'? It's the technical term in this film for a psychotic condition brought on by the pressures of travel in deep space. Director Christian Alvart's tale of humans trapped on a spaceship crosses zombie movies with elements of Apocalypse Now and The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The story begins with a ship traveling through space, and a brief history is given in simple text. We learn that the Earth's population has reached over 20 billion and humans are fighting over natural resouces. Then, a miracle: scientists find a planet almost identical to Earth. The spacecraft 'Elysium' is launched with 60,000 crew members in hypersleep to colonize the new world.
The camera then pans from outer space directly into the Elysium's bridge. There, the three members of the flight crew receive a final message from Earth telling them that they are 'the last of us. Good luck. Godspeed." Earth is gone. The humans of the Elysium are all that's left of humanity.
We then cut to a man awakening from a very pleasant dream of a woman's face whispering, "I love you..." to a claustrophobic nightmare. Encased in a hypersleep chamber, he pulls tubes, electrodes and other things from his shivering body.
He's not sure who he is, but his sleep chamber is marked 'Bower'. As his memory slowly returns Bower realizes something has gone horribly, horribly wrong on the ship. He dresses and then tries to unravel the mystery. An officer of a higher rank, Payton, awakens not long after, and the two work together. Bower ventures out into the ship and encounters bizarre, zombielike tribal creatures roaming the darkened hallways. Where did they come from? How long have they been asleep? What happened to the previous flight crew that he was supposed to replace?
As a mystery, Pandorum works on some levels. Audiences will want to get to the bottom of the mystery, but some key exposition that was crucial to making the film more horrific was delivered through etchings on a wall with a voiceover by a surviving crew member. It explains how the ship came to be in its present state, but it feels unsatisfying.
The action sequences are the film's weakest point -- the zombie creatures are vicious and scary and fast, but the main characters get thrown around so much it seems unbelievable that they would survive even one encounter with the creatures.
Where Pandorum does shine, however, is on atmosphere. Director Alvart managed to make the scenes feel very tight and uncomfortable, and portrayed twitchy insanity pulling at the Bower's mind very effectively. There are some scares here, but nothing terrifying.
The first half of the movie is great, when there are still mysteries to unravel, but by the end we see lackluster action and a deus ex machina Shyamalan twist ending. Pandorum will satisfy sci-fi diehards, but there are better 'trapped-on-a-spaceship' movies out there.