Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Pandorum

by Filamena Young

pandorumSo, last time I told you what is widely agreed to be the best Lovecraftian movie of all time. After discussing it with some experts in the field, (Ken Hite and Google) we agreed that Alien blew away all comers in terms of creating the feeling of cosmic horror second only to the man who invented it.

So, if we treat that as gospel, I’m about to say something blasphemous.

I think the 2009 title, Pandorum, did a better job in just about every category.

I know, you’re about to click off of this review and never speak to me again; I’ve heard a lot of bad reviews of Pandorum all over the nets. I just plain don’t get it. This is a gosh-darn scary movie with stunning visuals and some really fantastic physical acting.

In terms of horror, it’s got cannibals, it’s got gore, it’s got psychological torment and madness.

In terms of science fiction, it’s got space ships, chemicals that manipulate evolution and space marines.

I feel like where Pandorum really shines (or else, darkly lurks at the borders of a maddening emptiness) is in the choice of bad guys. Without giving away too much about the deeper plot, I feel like the real villains of this story are inherently human. The problems the characters face, the dangers on the ship, and the possibility of human extinction are all direct results of the frailty of the human mind.

pandorum2It won’t be giving anything away to say that Pandorum, the titular mental illness that the characters fear, is madness brought on by too much time in a long-distance ship. That is, like cabin fever turned bloody and violent. Pandorum is, within the setting, the madness of the stars and it’s very difficult to get much more Lovecraftian than that.

Seeing the characters mentally unravel in fits and starts while dealing with barely-fathomable monstrosities like, but no longer human, feels to me just like a Lovecraftian short story. The ship itself is a rich-but-filthy setting. It’s so big the characters can’t navigate it without computer systems and, though they’re a part of the crew, they don’t actually know how to get around because the thing must be as big as a city. It’s dirty, too, full of rust and oil, and the rubber cables that run the lengths of the ship’s halls have a sick, organic look to them while still remaining completely believable as a functioning part of the ship. Dealing with the ship is nearly as dangerous as dealing with the cannibals, as it’s falling apart, out of control and almost too big (and important) to comprehend. Beyond the ship, there’s no escape as that’s just the Big Black.

Writer Travis Malloy and Director Christian Alvart do a fantastic job of dragging the viewer along with the characters by having them learn about the ship’s function and mission along with the audience. (Long-term slumber causes memory loss, and so, the protagonist starts remembering only his training.)

All in all, the dangers of human potential and the weakness of the human mind that set the stage as well as create the drama of the story are just too Lovecraft. I want to say this is the best Lovecraft movie ever.

I want to say it, but I won’t. Pandorum, among everything else, is ultimately a hopeful piece, a story that ends on a surprisingly-satisfying, optimistic note. In that way, it deviates enough from the feeling of cosmic horror and inevitable decay that it just can’t beat out Alien. Close, but no cigar.

Next, I’m going to try to find a movie with Cthulhu in love just in time for Valentine’s Day. Any suggestions?

Verdict: Lovecraftian.