FrightFest 2023: Pandemonium Takes Us on a Thought-Provoking Journey to Hell

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In college, I took a class on the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s famous poem exploring heaven, hell, and purgatory. It was pretty fun, and as a horror fan, I especially enjoyed the Inferno, the part of the work that deals with the fate of the damned. It’s a fascinating journey across the entire gamut of human evil, and I’ve often wondered what a cinematic adaptation of this poem would look like. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good one yet, but Pandemonium comes pretty close. This film is admittedly much smaller in scope than Dante’s epic tale, but it takes us on a similar journey through hell to explore the varieties of human evil and the ways we can close our eyes to the true gravity of our actions.

Pandemonium, written and directed by Quarxx, stars Hugo Dillon, Ophelia Kolb, Arben Bajraktaraj, and Manon Maindivide. When it starts, we see two men, Nathan and Daniel, standing alone by the side of a nasty car crash, and they both wonder about their good fortune after miraculously surviving the accident unscathed but having no idea how. The truth eventually dawns on them that neither survived the wreck, and they’ve awakened in the first stage of the afterlife. Soon after, two mysterious doors appear, and the men eventually step through them into their eternal destinies. From there, Pandemonium leaves Daniel behind as we follow Nathan as he travels through hell. First, he encounters two stories about death and denial, and then he learns what this infernal place has in store for him.

For the first 25-30 minutes or so, Pandemonium is captivating. Hugo Dillon and Arben Bajraktaraj do a fantastic job playing as Nathan and Daniel, ad they have great chemistry together. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and I loved seeing these characters slowly figure out what was happening. I’d even say this was the best part of the movie, so I was a bit sad to see Daniel fade out of the story.

Then, when Nathan’s solo journey begins, Pandemonium shifts gears and becomes an anthology film. As I said, Nathan encounters two macabre stories about death, but he doesn’t just hear the damned souls recount them. Instead, he sees them in his mind’s eye while we see them play out on screen.

Both stories are pretty entertaining, and I especially enjoyed the first one, a grisly tale about an innocent-looking little girl who’s actually a massive psychopath. It takes place in a beautiful mansion, and writer/director Quarxx takes full advantage of that setting to create a haunting, fairy tale-esque feel.

A woman with blood on her face
Image provided by FrightFest

On top of that, the actress who plays the girl, Manon Maindivide, gives quite possibly the best performance in Pandemonium. She’s utterly diabolical and completely remorseless while simultaneously displaying an air of disarming, childlike innocence. It’s a great combination, and Manon Maindivide pulls it off without breaking a sweat. Her performance completely made up for Daniel’s absence in this part of the film, so I can’t wait to see Maindivide in future genre movies.

That being said, I did have one issue with these two stories. I enjoyed them but felt they went on a bit too long. Both contain multiple scenes with natural thematic and narrative endpoints, but they plow right through those potential stopping points and just keep going. In that sense, they almost feel like macabre, miniature versions of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, so they don’t hit quite as hard as they would if they were more compact.

After Nathan sees these two tragic tales, Pandemonium kind of just fizzles out. I don’t want to spoil anything that happens, but the rest of the film isn’t nearly as interesting as everything that came before it. This finale doesn’t ruin the movie, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

In particular, I really wanted some more thematic heft in this part of the story. One of the best things about Pandemonium is its portrayal of evil. As I said before, this film is a masterful exploration of the evil people commit and how we can close our eyes to the true gravity of our actions, and every part of it up until the final act contributes to that exploration.

It’s genuinely deep and thought-provoking, so I was pretty bummed out when the story ended on such a bland note. To be fair, the final few scenes do add a tiny bit to the movie’s message. They hint at the possibility of redemption and second chances, but they’re way too shallow. It almost feels like this part of the film barely hints at those questions and then leaves them for a potential sequel to explore in more depth, so it left me quite disappointed when the credits began to roll.

However, like I said, the film’s ending isn’t nearly bad enough to ruin the entire movie, so on the whole, I’m happy to say that I had a good time with Pandemonium. As a quasi-anthology, it’s a bit of eclectic hodgepodge, but it works. It features three great performances, some awesome horror, gorgeous visuals, and an excellent exploration of human evil, so I highly recommend checking out this film when it becomes available to a wider audience.

Pandemonium played at FrightFest on August 26.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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