PANDORUM — ★★ — Dennis Quaid, Cam Gigandet, Ben Foster; rated R (violence, gore, profanity); in general release.
"Pandorum" plays like the best movie based on a video game to not actually have a video game to base it on, ever.
More to the point, it's a tight, minimalist "Alien"-esque "something is loose and hunting people on our space ship" picture that is as claustrophobic as you'd expect, if not quite as paranoid as you might hope.
Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma") and Dennis Quaid play two members of the crew of the Elysium, a vast colonizer ship sent from a fatally overcrowded Earth to an Earth-like planet more than 100 years flight-time away. They awaken confused. Procedure hasn't been followed. The crew shift that was to awaken them is nowhere to be found. Their memories are barely functional after a long sleep. The power is failing. The ship is making creaking noises that aren't confidence-inspiring. There's no way out of the compartment they're in, and no one responds to their radio calls.
So the younger one, Bower (Foster), climbs through the dark air ducts to try and find a way to open the door. Payton (Quaid) stays behind to guide him through the maze, using a computer on backup power. It is what Bower finds out there, in the dark corridors, darker storage bins, lockers, equipment rooms and cryo-sleep warehouses of the ship that is really creepy.
Some people are apparently awake. No one can answer his questions — "What happened? Where are we?" Most of them don't live long enough to, because something, a lot of somethings, are hunting them.
Bower sets off on a mission to "re-boot" the ship's reactor to save himself and whoever else is still alive on the ship, encountering beasties, colonists who turned themselves into warriors and survivalists (Antje Traue and Cung Le), and a guy (Eddie Rouse) who has gone off the deep end. This last fellow has taken up residence in a storage area and covered the walls with his own cave paintings, telling the tale of the madness that may have brought them all to ruin.
Emotionally investing in the characters isn't easy, but there's a lot to like in this lean, mildly scary but always engrossing film from Christian Alvart. He uses the darkness, the confined spaces and limited color palette well, stages his shocks with some brio and makes the standard "ticking clock" plot work, though perhaps not as thrillingly as we'd hope.
Quaid, playing the man left behind, must deal with another crew member (Cam Gigandet) who crawls in through the ducts so that they can debate which of them has gone space-sick, "Pandorum," a form of homicidal madness brought on by cryo-sleep, the confines of long space travel and flaws in your psyche. Alvart maintains some mystery about what is really going on in these scenes, though perhaps not enough.
But what's here is still entertaining as a movie, even if one suspects that the real money will be in the game based on "Pandorum."
"Pandorum" is rated R for strong horror violence and language. Running time: 104 minutes.