The Movie Waffler New Release Review - PANDEMONIUM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - PANDEMONIUM

New Release Review - PANDEMONIUM
After dying in a car crash, a man is summoned to the underworld.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Quarxx

Starring: Hugo Dillon, Arben Bajraktaraj, Manon Maindivide, Ophélia Kolb, Sidwell Weber, Carl Laforêt

Pandemonium poster

Those who believe in Heaven and Hell, or any cultural variations thereof, like to think they have it sussed. If they live a good life they'll go to Heaven, while a bad life will send them to the other place. But who's to say what moral standards are applied by whatever forces decide the ultimate destination of a soul? Are they the standards held by the religious fanatic or by modern society? Many Christians are fine with two people of the same sex having physical intercourse, and there are many gay Christians, but the founding text of their religion says otherwise. Euthanasia and abortion are considered equivocal to murder by many, yet are legal in several countries. Personally speaking, I don't view people who engage in gay sex, who have undergone abortions or have helped put a loved one out of their misery as bad people. But I'm not the one that will be standing at the pearly gates passing judgement. I also don't happen to believe in Heaven or Hell, and I'm relieved that I hold such a view because if I did, the suggestions made in writer/director Quarxx's Pandemonium would probably keep me up at night.

Quarxx, a French multidisciplinary artist who made his feature film debut with 2018's All the Gods in the Sky, opens his second film with a man, Nathan (Hugo Dillon), waking in the middle of the road on a misty mountain outside. Looking at his car, which has ploughed into the cliff face, he expresses dismay at having survived such a crash. He's joined by Daniel (Arben Bajraktaraj), who was riding the motorcycle Nathan struck. Daniel breaks the bad news to Nathan that they didn't actually survive the accident, that they died and are now stuck in some form of limbo. Nathan laughs off the suggestion until he looks into the wreckage of his car and sees his own limp, mangled corpse.

Pandemonium review

Then two doors open at opposite ends of the road. One is white and emanates beautiful music. The other is a sinister shade of ocre and the sound of screams can be heard beyond its façade. Naturally the two lads opt to walk through the former, but they merely end up back on the road. It seems their destiny is out of their hands. Daniel has been damned for being drunk and killing a little girl with his bike, while Nathan has been similarly judged for murdering his wife, which he protests was a case of euthanasia.

His protestations falling on deaf ears, Nathan resigns himself to entering Hell, which appears to be modelled on Lucio Fulci's vision of the underworld as seen in The Beyond. Corpses lie scattered around and when Nathan touches any of the bodies he's "treated" to the story of how they ended up in Hell.

At this point the film morphs into a quasi-horror anthology, albeit with only two stories. The first is actually a short Quarxx previously released in 2021, 'Les Princesses font ce qu'elles veulent', which tells the tale of Nina (Manon Maindivide), a troubled nine-year-old whom we see being interviewed by a child counsellor regarding her violence towards animals and her younger sister. Nina's parents are worried about their daughter, and they're right to be, as they're killed in their sleep. Discovering their corpses the next morning, Nina blames it on her imaginary friend Tony (Carl Laforêt), whom she cruelly describes as a monster due to his neurofibromatosis. Tony denies having committed the deed, but he's happy to be allowed leave the confines of his subterranean cave. Meanwhile, Nina is setting her sights on subjecting her sister to a similar fate as her parents.

Pandemonium review

The second story is an original creation that sees Ophelia Kolb cast as Julia, a busy professional woman who ignores the cries for help from her bullied teenage daughter Chloe (Sidwell Weber) until she finds her dead body in the bathtub. Suffering from a breakdown, Julia acts as though her daughter is still alive, making plans to take her away on a trip. This is intercut with gruelling flashbacks of the torment Chloe endured at the hands of her fellow school pupils.

Pandemonium implies that whoever or whatever is in charge of deciding who gets to Heaven and who goes to Hell is a merciless puritan. Of the various souls whose stories we're either shown or told, only Nina comes close to any sort of definition of "evil," but given her age is she really cognisant of her actions? Of course, we only have Nathan's word that he killed his wife out of mercy, and some might hold the view that anyone who gets drunk and mans a vehicle like Daniel deserves a harsh punishment if they take another life due to their carelessness. But what of Julia and Chloe? Suicide is despicably considered a sin by most religions, certainly Christianity, but is Julia's failure to read her child's pain really a transgression worthy of eternal damnation?

Pandemonium review

Even for an atheist like myself Pandemonium is a deeply upsetting watch. Even if you don't believe in Heaven and Hell you'll find the implications of Quarxx's film intensely depressing. Perhaps what's most troubling is that even in the 21st century so many people still believe in such things, and that they're comfortable with the idea of having their very existence ultimately audited with such black and white moral judgment.

While it's one of the most thematically dark films I've seen in some time, Pandemonium also boasts humour of the blackest kind. The wraparound segment could almost be an adaptation of a Woody Allen short story as Nathan attempts to weasel his way out of a Hell that is stubborn in its bureaucracy. After 90 minutes of unrelenting misery, Pandemonium does end on a relatively uplifting note that suggests Hell might only exist because its employees blindly follow orders.

Pandemonium is on Arrow Player from May 27th.