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Dystopian and post-apocalyptic-themed films have long been a staple in movies and trying to bring something new to the table is a feat many can’t do. Often, the reasons for why the world has fallen into chaos remains an integral part of the story and for others it is about simply surviving. In Pandorica, it is a mix of both that mostly work in this low-budget independent film that proves that this description doesn’t mean low-quality.
When the world has plunged into actual literal darkness (in a nice visual starting the film), humanity reverts to a tribal existence, devoid of modern technologies, living with its one greatest power: fire. Called the Great Reset, time marches on and pockets of humanity begin to thrive but in medieval-like states unaware of their once bright past. We meet three young members of the Varosha tribe, who are about to undergo a series of trials (led by the current leader) to decide the next ruler of their clan, a generations-old tradition that only the most able are invited to compete. They are Eiren (Jade Hobday), a strong female warrior-type that looks a lot like Rooney Mara‘s Lisbeth from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Thade (Adam Bond), a long-haired quiet man cut right from the cast of a Game of Thrones-style program, and Ades (Marc Zammit), the slippery one, the untrustworthy loner who wants power.
They are taken to the deep woods by the current leader and told the one who emerges from the trial in the morning will be chosen. At a meeting point, they light a fire to begin the quest and almost immediately, in stumbles a ragged-looking girl named Flinn (Laura Marie Howard). With cropped hair and desperate eyes, she cries that “they” are coming. In her arms, she clutches a rusted orange box that holds a mystery powerful enough to hold back the enemy who finally come from the darkness, a group of large, masked men with snarling voices. When the attack is over, the Varosha leader is dead and the four survivors must now figure out what to do next. Is this the trial or has something gone wrong?
Written and directed by Tom Paton, in his debut, Pandorica, strikes the right chord for most of the tightly-enclosed journey, which may seem ironic for a story set in the woods. But with its nighttime setting, the characters exist only in the limited glow of light burning from handheld torches and this both reduces the scope and scale of what is meant to be a large-scale story but also encloses these people in a formidable cloak of tension. With a small budget, Paton is able to give the setting some depth and vitality, once the admittedly awkward setup is over, which includes a bulky set of expositional text that might better have been left out and made for the viewer to discover as the story progressed. But once the trial begins, things improve greatly and build well.
It would be easy to compare this to the likes of the Hunger Games, with Eiren a young, conflicted but empowering female in the same vein as Katniss, but while watching this, I found myself thinking more of Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy, specifically The Fellowship of The Rings. The setting has a strong fantastical setting with “the box” standing in for the One Ring having great power as dark menacing enemies seek it out (there’s even a bit where one man is cut down and in his dying breath, claims he would have followed the other). This feels like a quest to save more than the people in the story. And when it’s over, after a choice is made by the shores of clean water, the symbolism and lineage to Frodo’s epic tale are obvious.
This is by no means a criticism as indeed, within the confines of this story, this works well and makes sense. Paton does a good job with what he has, and musters some solid performances and quality action out of the production. And behind it all is a rousing electronic score that gives it a nice 80s feel, something that oddly fits given that this is about a future existing in a past. Paton reminds us just what independent films are all about and his debut serves as a worthy contribution to the genre. Pandorica releases in theaters and on VOD October 11th. This is a pre-release review.
Director: Tom Paton
Writer: Tom Paton
Stars: Jade Hobday, Marc Zammit, Adam Bond, Luke D'Silva, Bentley Kalu, Laura Marie Howard
Genre: Science Fiction