The dystopian, post-apocalyptic, thriller is a well-trodden genre. Film has seen the world destroyed so many times now that chances are, one of the many films depicting the fall of the modern world, will have cracked just how it is going to happen. In these many films the world is a sand strewn wasteland, a broken metropolis, or- in this case- a regression back to our primal human past. A great filmmaker can make any of these work as exciting platforms for a survival narrative and in Tom Paton (making his directorial/writing debut), we have just that with the fun Pandorica.
Much like last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the exposition as to how the world fell is relatively vague and not especially necessary, explained through only a few sentences in the opening. However the mythos surrounding this “new world” of tribes and trials is much further developed and as a result rather involving. The plot simply concerns the leadership trials of the Varosha Tribe, whereby three of the best young are chosen to participate in these deadly trials to determine a new leader. Led into the vast woodlands by current leader Nus (Luke D’Silva), the three young warriors Eiren (Jade-Fenix Hobday), Ares (Marc Zammit) and Thete (Adam Bond) await their trials, only for an unexpected task to stumble their way.
Fans of dystopian cinema will pick up on noticeable tropes here in a film that is set in a post-apocalyptic world but is actually more concerned in telling a fast paced survival story. Paton’s writing is simple and effective, seemingly drawing on influences as wide as Neil Marshall and John McTiernan’s Predator. At just over 70 minutes in length, the film doesn’t waste any time in getting into its story and does a good job at establishing its own mythology in the process. Nus’ lead figure recalls the legends of the tribe and its traditions and while some moments play out as expected; the result is still an exciting and occasionally brutal thriller. The film recalls some of Marshall’s work aesthetically, with the tribal elements evoking his historical drama Centurion and his post-apocalyptic Doomsday. While the film’s brilliant shadowy, animalistic, antagonists ‘The Others’, recall the Yautja from Predator.
Apparently taking 11 days to shoot and costing around £70,000, this film flows better than some Hollywood productions and near enough avoids CG technology entirely and thus looks authentic and feels primeval, thanks mostly to the great make-up and costume design. Paton’s traditional narrative may boast the odd convention but the film does not shy away from that and instead of breaking new ground, it embraces its genre and delivers a solid pace and fantastic camerawork, with some crisp and wild cinematography, that makes the best use of the film’s eye-catching Billericay, Essex and Lake District locations. The idea of divine right being claimed by those with great power or the dissention among the group of survivors, are common tropes and Paton’s film effectively uses them to interesting effect, with a great deal of suspense been built thanks to the scoring by Chris Garvey, Max Sweiry and Steve Crompton, which occasionally has an edge of John Carpenter (another clear influence on the director, as evident by the trimmed pacing) about it.
The characters may fit some traditional molds but the acting is pretty darn efficient all round, with only the odd line of dialogue feeling out of place. The script is mostly serious but the occasional light moment trickles in and helps keep the character camaraderie fresh. Hobday is great in the lead as the strong-willed if unsure of herself warrior Eiren, Zammit is petulant and conceited as cohort/competition Ares and Bond is a likable presence as Thete. You care what happens to the group and their wise guide Nus (well portrayed by D’Silva) and this means that the story and its villains can play out to successful effect. Fine support comes in Laura Marie Howard as Flinn (a character who’s introduction really marks the start of the main plot), while ‘The Others’ are a great creation, and Bentley Kalu seems to have a ball going crazy as their leader 9.
Pandorica is a great treat for fans of the genre and makes no apologies for embracing certain conventions, especially as it uses them to tell a great story of ascending to claim that which you never thought you could. Paton directs with an eye for suspense and savage beauty and, while the film is very brisk, it gives this low budget independent film a real authenticity and focus. It will be interesting to see where Paton goes from here because for a feature debut, this is very impactful stuff indeed. Much Recommended.
PANDORICA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TOM PATON / STARRING: JADE-FENIX HOBDAY, MARC ZAMMIT, ADAM BOND, BENTLEY KALU, LUKE D’SILVA, LAURA MARIE HOWARD, AMED HASHIMI / RELEASE DATE: 1ST APRIL (SCREENING IN SELECT CINEMAS)