October 1, 2009

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Pandorum (R)
Even in space, zombies will find you — thus is the lesson of Pandorum, a fun, rather suspenseful bit of sci-fi horror.

Military officers Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) wake up after who knows how long in hypersleep during a deep space flight. They are, it appears, locked in part of a ship that — though they can’t remember any personal details about their own lives — they know it is their job to pilot. Perhaps it would have helped if they could have read the title cards that explain to us in the audience that as Earth became more overcrowded and our resources more scarce, we started looking for another planet to call home and finally found one in a far-off solar system. Bower and Payton are aboard the Elysium, a ship meant to take humans to this new world.

But something’s gone wrong. The rotation of crew members who are supposed to pilot and take care of the ship seems to have been broken somehow and now the power appears to be failing and the ship in some kind of trouble. Knowing only that they have to take care of business, Payton and Bower set out to figure out what’s happened. Payton charges up some auxiliary power and brings up a map of the ship. Bower climbs into an air duct to seek an exit from the pod they’ve woken up in and to look for the ship’s central power, which he hopes to bring back online.

Once out of the relatively normal-seeming pod, however, Bower discovers things on the ship are even worse than he imagined. He gets glimpses of a woman roaming the halls, sees the bodies of dead crew members and, most horrifying, finds himself hunted by strange beings with pale skin, sharp teeth and a seemingly insatiable hunger for human flesh.

You know, the words “insatiable hunger for human flesh” on a movie poster and a name like Space Zombies or Attack of the Space Zombies or Escape from the Space Zombies would not inaccurately describe the B-movie heart of this sci-fi adventure. Sure, it has the cool, dark look and tone of, say, this summer’s Moon, but it has a mad scientist behind the scenery pulling the levers and electrocuting the monster.

Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid wouldn’t seem to be the recipe for Saturday afternoon fun, but they manage to walk a good line between too serious and too campy. Quaid is just campy enough and exactly at the right time, and Foster (a real standout in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma) always manages to surprise you with how much better he is than you’d think he’d be. I can only hope he’ll eventually get a role in something grown-ups will see so he starts getting the credit for it.

Pandorum won’t be setting the comicons on fire, but there are plenty of worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon at the theater. C+

Rated R for strong horror violence and language. Directed by Christian Alvart and written by Travis Millory and Christian Alvart, Pandorum is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Overture Films.