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  • Jeff Beck

Pandemonium: A Sidetracked Journey Through Hell (Blu-ray)


The Film:


Films exploring the afterlife have long been a profound area of interest for filmmakers, with many of those seeming to focus on characters not quite ready to cross over due to disbelief or unfinished business. However, every once in a while, we get a film that wants to go further and show us a specific possibility of what happens once we shuffle off this mortal coil and enter the great beyond. This brings us to a little French horror flick called "Pandemonium," which seeks to give us one of the more pessimistic possibilities of where someone who's made questionable choices in life could find themselves after death.


The film opens right in the aftermath of an accident, where we meet Nathan (Hugo Dillon) and Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj). Both men slowly recall what happened: In the foggy conditions of the mountain road, Nathan accidentally hit Daniel with his car, subsequently losing control and flipping over. This also brings with it the realization that they both died in the process, confirmed by the presence of Nathan's corpse in the car. They are soon faced with two doors, with blissful music emanating from one and screams from the other. However, further discoveries leave them with the latter door as their only option, ultimately putting them both on a direct course to hell.


The first 30 minutes or so of "Pandemonium" are a rather striking & compelling tale that almost feel as though it could have been a short film in itself, or even a play taking place in this one location. The first portion doesn't present anything particularly new in that these two characters present the two different reactions one might have to this situation, with one accepting their fate and the other in disbelief, but as it goes on, and more truths come to light as they are presented with the two doors, it proceeds into rather fascinating territory that has our characters trying to alter their doomed fate before finally accepting where they must go.


However, the film's problems start to arise when it tries to move on from there. When Nathan finally goes through the door to hell, he finds others who are suffering its eternal torments, which is where the film transforms into a kind of anthology, beginning with the story of a disturbed little girl (Manon Maindivide) who has killed her parents and blames an imaginary monster (Carl Laforêt) who lives in her cellar. The story mainly focuses on her indifference to the death of her parents, and her unwillingness to accept what she's done, but it's a rather drawn-out, superficial exploration of these ideas, leading it to feel more like the film is getting sidetracked with a piece that doesn't really belong.


The other story it presents involves a mother (Ophélia Kolb) whose daughter (Sidwell Weber) commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied at school, receiving no help from her mother even after telling her that she's going through hell. This story primarily focuses on the mother's disbelief that her daughter is dead, but once again it's handled in a rather superficial manner, even coming dangerously close to recreating "Weekend at Bernie's". Just like the tale before, it ends up not really getting anywhere, feeling like more of a distraction from the main story, as opposed to one that's helping to examine the film's themes.


It does eventually come back around to expanding on Nathan's story a little bit at the end (though sadly losing a fair amount of cohesion before the credits role), but by then it's just a little too late. The side stories that writer/director Quarxx throws in the middle unfortunately drag the film down too much, making it all the more clear that the focus should've remained on Nathan (and perhaps Daniel, who mysteriously disappears) as he navigates the various areas of hell, perhaps still trying to find a way out of his predicament. Trying to throw in half-baked stories of other random people simply doesn't do it any favors. There's certainly a lot to like here, including those first compelling 30 minutes, and most of the ending works (chopping off a couple of minutes would help greatly), but sadly it's ultimately not quite enough to overcome the sagging middle portion, which would've been better to excise altogether.


Video/Audio:


"Pandemonium" comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p, High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. As a decent amount of it takes place in hell, the film can be rather dark at times, but the image always remains perfectly sharp throughout its 95-minute duration. Likewise, the LPCM (uncompressed stereo) soundtrack is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue and music in excellent quality. In typical Arrow Films fashion, they've simply done a wonderful job on the film's home release.


Special Features:


Different Textures (20 Minutes)

Tony the Monster (17 Minutes)

Filming a Real Birth (5 Minutes)

Premiere (4 Minutes)

Making of (23 Minutes)


The Blu-ray comes with a decent selection of featurettes, totaling a little over an hour, that mainly explore the making of the film through interviews with writer/director Quarxx. The two most worth checking out are the "Different Textures" featurette, in which Quarxx discusses the ideas behind the film, and the "Making of," which consists of lots of intriguing behind the scenes footage.


Conclusion:


Quarxx's "Pandemonium" starts off with a rather fascinating tale of two men suddenly faced with going to hell, but sadly becomes quite sidetracked as it attempts to incorporate less compelling stories of others who came before them, ultimately resulting in a film that has a fair amount to like, though not quite enough to overcome the large deficit left by its distracted middle portion.


Score: 3/5


Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


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