Directed by: Tom Patton
Starring: Jade Hobday, Marc Zammit, Adam Bond, Luke D'Silva, Bentley Kalu, Laura Marie Howard
Set far in the future, long after our civilisation has fallen and Mankind has splintered into many, isolated tribes. Three members of one such tribe, the Varosha, are being led into a sacred forest to participate in a trial to elect a new Chieftain. As they arrive at the birthplace of their tribe, they come encounter Finn, a fugitive from another tribe, carrying a mysterious box, and being hunted...
Pandorica, the first feature by director Tom Patton, is an excellent example of low budget film-making and is exactly the kind of film that the UK should be producing more of.
The film opens with the end of our civilisation - a shot of the Earth, with all of its major cities winking out, one by one until the world is engulfed in darkness. Then we meet our three potential leaders - strong but weak-willed Thade, conniving weasel Ares and the cunning and headstrong Eirin. Their personalities are drawn out during a "capture the flag" exercise set by their current leader, Nas: Thade charges in first, followed by Ares. Eirin meanwhile holds back until she is sure of the opposition, but she charges in anyway - she's defeated, but nevertheless manages to capture the flag before doing so. Its the attention to character which keeps the story compelling and consistent. For example we learn some background of the last leadership trial, and see how that incident feeds into the relationships before us and how each character sees each other.
Pandorica's macguffin is the box, and what it contains. This alludes strongly to the fable of Pandora's Box, and works exceedingly well. In the fable, the box contains all the evils of the world which escape when Pandora opens the box, leaving only hope inside. When the contents of the box are revealed, it makes total sense - an embodiment of evil which, once discovered, will never be left alone. It also makes perfect sense that Finn's tribe would send a trio of powerful warriors to retrieve it at all costs.
The warriors, guardians of the box and considered Gods by their tribe, are the strongest visual element of the film. Their intricately carved masks give them a very alien appearance (there's at least one low shot which gives them a passing resemblance to the Predator) and they move with a lot of stealth and speed. It becomes clear that the Varosha are not as strong as some of the other tribes and have survived for as long as they have by living in isolation. There's a scene where Eirin and Thade first encounter Finn in the forest - they don't bother to make contact with her, merely observe her unseen, and shrug their shoulders. "Weird", they confirm...it comes across that it would be against their nature to be too inquisitive.
When the film gets up to full speed, there is plenty going on, with both the external threat of the Guardians and internally what with the chance to be chieftain up for grabs. As mentioned earlier, Pandorica never loses sight of its characters, allowing each of them to develop in their own way, and the actors do a good job of conveying that journey. Jade Hobday gets most of the heavy lifting to do in that regard as she is the main protagonist and has the largest story arc. We know that she is cunning and resourceful, but at the same time allows her emotions to control her actions and loses sight of potentially bigger goals. She's tough, but also vulnerable at times, but won't allow herself to be intimidated by her fellow chieftain candidates. Hobday is able to convey much just through her body language and the odd perfectly timed roll of the eyes.
Pandorica makes good use of a couple of production sets to convey the wild untamed future. One of my favourite moments in the film comes when Eirin encounters the rusted empty chassis of a car, having never seen anything like it before. The technical aspects of the film are very good, especially the cinematography and lighting. A lot of the film is set at night, and the photography is very clear.
Are there issues? Of course, but they are on the most part pretty minor and are the result of budget restraints rather than intent or lack of care and attention. And I'm not suggesting that the film should be damned with faint praise by suggesting its lack of budget should garner it some sympathy. The story is compelling and engrossing enough that you'll hardly notice anyway.
The post civilisation setting of Pandorica brings to mind another low budget film, Warrioress by director Ross Boyask. The two films could easily be set in the same fictional universe and each film could have learned lessons/benefitted from each other. Nevertheless, Pandorica remains a very original take on the genre and provides some very striking imagery.
8 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)
PANDORICA is available on DVD, Blu Ray, VOD and will be appearing in UK cinemas from 1st April 2016, and will be available in the US on June 1st 2016.