Pandorum (2009) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?


2009 is not exactly a year that horror fans remember fondly. What came out that year? Off the top of the head, not much comes up. A quick search gives us The Unborn, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and Drag Me to Hell. Depending on who you ask, these range from ok movies to Drag Me to Hell, but not exactly memorable overall. Something happened at the end of the 2000s and horror didn’t give us much to work with for some reason. If we dig, we get better titles like The Collector, Laid to Rest, and Paranormal Activity, but their box office ranged from amazing in the case of Paranormal Activity to almost nonexistent for the others, so it was completely hit or miss, like studios didn’t know what to push and what to keep for the home video market. Another movie that had a lot of potential and just didn’t hit right was Pandorum (watch it HERE).

Pandorum sold us a creepy, gooey, space horror odyssey from producer Paul W.S Anderson. The man had made another space horror film in 1997 and it was fantastic. Event Horizon is a fan favorite for its weirdness, its scares, and how to just pushes things almost too far. So, his name should have been a good omen here. Except, the man had since sullied his own name with Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator, and the Death Race remake. People were not exactly waiting for his next movie with bated breath. Add to this that his name was used for marketing when he hadn’t written or directed Pandorum, so perhaps that was a mistake.

If we take a look at the people who are credited here, we get co-writers Travis Milloy and Christian Alvart with Alvart also directing. Checking their credits before Pandorum to see why they were entrusted with this movie and a budget of $33 million, it’s hard to explain how they got the money to be honest. Milloy had written 2 movies before this, Street Gun in 1996 and Just Like Mona in 2003. Neither exactly are big horror titles. Alvart on the other hand had some more horror-centric credits with Case 39 as a director, also released in 2009, and Antibodies as well as Curiosity & The Cat, released in 2005 and 1999 respectively, which were not exactly hits, but had their audience. Antibodies alone was enough to be curious about what the man would do next as it had a solid film festival run and gathered some good reviews. However, this doesn’t feel like it’s enough to give them $33 million and cut them loose on a horror sci-fi set. They were pretty green, and their work didn’t exactly call for this kind of trust. This may explain why Paul W.S. Anderson was brought on as a producer and why his name featured more prominently in the marketing for Pandorum.

The trailer had a lot of potential, showing not enough to really have an idea of what the story would be, but enough to get seriously creepy vibes. It played here and there, horror fans saw it, some paid attention, and some derided it because of Anderson’s name. It was not exactly a big hit as a trailer, but there was something there. Enough for a few people to get interested and talk about it online. Enough to get some butts in seats when the film opened. However, not enough to make the film a hit.

Once the release got closer and audiences started seeing the film, it got lambasted by both critics and fans, something that doesn’t seem to have changed since then. The percentages on Rotten Tomatoes, like them or not, are very telling. As of this writing, the critics’ consensus sits at 30%, so officially rotten, and the public’s opinion says it’s 49% fresh. It must be noted that the film was not screened for critics, leading to the reviews coming out after the film’s release, a move usually reserved for films for which studios have no real hope or no trust in them being good or good enough to get solid reviews that would help sell tickets. On the other hand, if we look at IMDb for a different take from the general public, the film has a 6.7 out of 10, so a little better. The film does seem to be finding its audience a bit more lately, but people are coming around so slowly, that it doesn’t really make a difference in the long run.

If we take a closer look at reviews of the film, the consensus was, and still is, that the film is a slog. It has some good science-fiction ideas and elements, and it makes good use of its sets, but it has not enough story to keep it moving at a decent pace. The cast is solid, doing better with the script than expected, but it’s not enough to save the film. If we take a look at comments from the public, well, it goes from people totally hating it all the way to people screaming that those who didn’t love the film are too dumb to get it, so the usual really. If we take a closer look at reviews from the public, those with more than just a few words, we can see that the total from IMDB seems to be closer to the reality for Pandorum these days.

In terms of box office, Pandorum is considered a massive flop, a failure, with a total box office of $22 million, so $11 million below its filming budget. As a reminder, this is the budget just for the film to be made, so there were more expenses for distribution and marketing, so the total loss was probably a whole lot higher. Now, of course, the reviews had something to do with this a little bit, and so did the trailer, and the marketing of course. However, the date of release should not be discounted as releasing a film at the right time is really important. Normally, a horror film should be released either in the summer, for Halloween, or around the Holidays for maximum box office reach. This was particularly true a decade and a half ago. Of course, horror fans will see horror films just about at any time, but to make a true hit, the film must connect with more than a core group of people, it must appeal to the masses. With that in mind, releasing Pandorum on September 25th was a good idea, however, it ended up competing with much better movies, but overall, it was a solid date before Halloween.

Looking at the box office for the weekend of September 25th, 2009, there were some interesting choices, but not exactly what you’d expect in terms of competition, especially for horror fans’ attention. Pandorum landed at number 6 in the top ten for the weekend, not exactly a strong opening. The top 5? Well, it’s a mixed bag with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the Bruce Willis sci-fi staring vehicle Surrogates, the Fame remake, the Matt Damon film The Informant, and the Tyler Perry film I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Some of these are solid films, but in terms of pre-Halloween season, none of these are hitting right. So, Pandorum was really not starting off on solid footing. In the following week, Pandorum fell out of the top 10, landing at number 12, while new movies like Zombieland did much, much better. The following weeks, Pandorum fell to number 17, then number 35, and then it basically disappeared. To say the film did poorly in a period when blood and gore were wanted is an understatement. Then again, back then, Halloween belonged to Saw so a lot of studios avoided getting in its path and there was one coming out on the last weekend of October.

Pandorum (2009) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

In terms of the film’s legacy, it was supposed to be the first in a trilogy, but following its performance at the box office, the two sequels were killed. Now, here’s an interesting bit of trivia about the budget. Originally, the film was going to be made independently with a budget of $200,000 by the same writers and director, to be shot in an abandoned mill with a cast of unknowns. Instead, it got a huge budget and a big-name case that includes Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid. The cast itself should have sold more tickets and helped the film along. With that in mind, the original script by Milloy had the film set on the prison ship with some of the characters being inmates and others being non-prisoners. Alvart had a similar story ready to go as well, his being aboard a settlers’ ship with astronauts on their way to conquer new planets. The scripts were close enough that the two of them, as well as the producers, agreed to merge them and morph them into the script for Pandorum.

As it is, it may have been better to let them make the film for that $200,000 and a few lesser-known folks. Perhaps a bit more struggles would have given the film a bit more to investigate and it may have forced story changes to make it better. As it is, the film has a decent following on social media with groups made on Facebook for it, including one that has both writers in there to try and get a sequel made. That being said, the film does not seem to be growing in popularity, its Blu-ray release being easily available for about $5 and seemingly no large re-release like a lot of other science fiction films have been getting lately on the horizon. The film has its fans, but they are not as numerous as they would like to tell the rest of the film-watching population.

On a last note, the name of the film itself, Pandorum, fits with Event Horizon just as well as it does with Pandorum. The term is used to describe a mental disease that comes from being in space for a long time and having illogical fears triggered by feelings that may or may not be based on reality.

No matter what the numbers say, the film has connected with some of its audience in a way that made them huge fans and has them fighting for a sequel, something many films cannot boast or even come near. There is a bit of a cult to Pandorum, but not quite enough to call it a cult film, at least not just yet. There was a lot of potential here, there was the opportunity of having The Descent in space or maybe another film in the vein of Event Horizon. Sadly, while the film has some strong sequences, some really creepy set-ups, and good performances, something is missing throughout, and it failed to make a connection with a larger audience. What happened to make it less than it could have been is hard to pinpoint and it most likely was a lot of wrong time, wrong script or wrong time, wrong film. There is talent here, and there is an audience who wants more, but overall, all of it was not enough to make it a hit film.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

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