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There is nothing quite like a classic gothic horror story. It doesn’t matter if the format for presenting it is a novel that keeps you turning pages until late at night or a film that grabs you. Not letting go until the final credits roll. One thing to keep in mind is this genre is traditionally better received by the fans, not the critics. This basically comes down to the differences between how a fan and critic view a film. For the typical critic such details as technical presentation, narrative must be deconstructed and analyzed and compared to other similar movies. Like a judge in many Olympic events it s the technical factors that usually drive the rating. In contrast a fan of the horror gene tends to be concerned only with the ability of the flick to entertain. If you had fun watching the movie you got your money’s worth. It is fantastic when a tale of terror is also a well crafted story and film but when you get down to it the visceral reaction outweighs the technical perfection. A good example is those old horror stories told around a summer campfire. You don’t question every aspect of the plot, you just sit there scared out of your wits. This came to mind during my initial viewing of a new film that fits this description; ‘Pandorum’. From a technical standpoint the number of missteps and flaws are difficult to ignore. They quickly mount up and can be distracting unless you are willing to turn off the higher functions of your brain and let that primitive portion required for the appreciating of horror flicks take over, this movie works on the gut level and is not for the more intellectually inclined. The film surprised me in how much fun it provided. It was something that is easy to get into especially if you have some friends over for a beer and pizza movie night. Considering it was shot for about $40,000 failure to break even in the theatrical release since this sort of flick typically makes its mark in the home theater market and to this end Anchor Bay has provided both a standard DVD and high def Blu-ray editions.

Travis Milloy was responsible for both the story and subsequent screenplay for this flick. He had two other action oriented scripts before this as well as a couple of credits as a stunt coordinator. It is always interesting to see how a prior life experience is reflected in their writing style. In this case it is only natural that the story is driven by the need for fast pace action. This does provide the requisite elements to add ‘thriller’ to the genre list. The most important aspect of a gothic horror is to manifest the proper atmosphere as soon as possible. What is needed is a moody setting with enough isolation to make sure the potential victims are sufficiently cut off from any help. As Ridley Scott proved with his seminal film ‘Alien’ one of the perfect settings for classic horror is the dark, lonely emptiness of outer space. As the tagline for that movie stated so well ‘In space no one can hear you scream’. This location out does the traditional haunted house since it resolves the age old quandary of why they just don’t leave. Outer Space also affords the opportunity to introduce an unknown menace to threaten the lives of those on board the ill fated vessel. Admittedly the script is derived ant not much in the way of originality but that too is more acceptable with the genre.

The director, Christian Alvart, has prior experience with horror although he is rather new to film making. Nothing jumps out in his style to set this movie apart from the others of its ilk but what struck me was the untapped potential Alvart demonstrates. With a few more films under his belt he has the prospect of becoming a well known name in the field of horror. The pacing is sluggish moving slowly through the initial setup and exposition punctuated by action shots that do serve to get the heart moving. Character development is attempted and to some degree achieved but for the most part what works beast is the setting and pervading sense of isolation and danger. Two astronauts, Bower (Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) awaken in a space ship seemingly alone and much to their angst completely without any memory. This does work well as a nice twist complimenting the physical isolation with the far more terrifying prospect of not remembering who or where you are. The juxtaposition of psychological and physical isolation and uncertainty is well reinforced through the use of some imaginative cinematography and use of the camera and lighting. There is never a feeling of trying to pull out every film school trick for the sake of being impressive; instead the directorial style affords a visually interesting and properly mood look and feel to the film. As the story progresses the men learn they are on a long term ship with the remains of the human race in hibernation. The ship has been on a journey that will take over a century in order to establish the human race on another planet required because over population threaten the survival of our species. Something has gone terribly wrong with almost a millennium in space and the drastic effects of the mode of transportation causing personality changes. It doesn’t take all that long before the terror mounts as the astronauts are forced to face the revived survivors that had degenerated into cannibalistic tendency not to mention the side effects of prolonged hibernation that includes severe paranoia, vivid hallucinations, and homicidal tendencies.

When you get down to it this flick is really not all that bad. When you consider it against the all too common slash and dash movie even a script like this appears refreshing. I have seen both the DVD and the Blu-ray and it should come as no surprise the high definition is far superior. What is notable with this is how the increases realism in the contrast and color palette the spooky mood is greatly reinforced. The audio comes out extremely well with the lossless audio that provides a claustrophobic feel perfect to pull you into the action.

Posted 01/05/2010

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