EVENT HORIZON (1997)
(Directed by Paul W.S Anderson)
(Written by Philip Eisner)
(Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill and Richard T. Jones)
Plot: A rescue crew investigates a spaceship known as the ‘Event Horizon’, which vanished into a black hole some years prior. It turns out that the Event Horizon had passed through a dimension that could best be described as ‘hell’ and it has brought something back with it. That ‘something’ seems intent on mentally and physically destroying the crew.
There are two ways you can approach “Event Horizon”, which was a noted flop upon its release, but has developed a rather faithful cult following and is generally regarded as Paul W.S Anderson’s (“Resident Evil“) best film. You can see it as an entertaining science fiction/horror hybrid that is elevated by its inspired ideas, awesome set designs and creative premise. Or you can view it as an action-horror flick that is frustrating because it squandered its inspired ideas, awesome set designs and creative premise in order to focus on dated CGI and dumbed down action sequences. As always, I am a double agent with my opinions. On one hand, I find it to be a very enjoyable flick which is made all the more memorable by its ambitions. On the other, I find it to be a maddening experience, because with all of this potential, it should be a horror classic. Maybe it once was, before the studios got involved and forced Anderson to remove 30 minutes (!!) worth of material. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, as the original cut has yet to surface, so we really don’t know. But the final result is that “Event Horizon” is pretty good, but I wanted it to be so much more than what it was.
“Event Horizon” might have a creative premise, but that doesn’t mean one should refer to it as ‘original’. The filmmakers borrowed a lot from previous horror flicks, even being pitched as ‘”The Shining” in space’. I’d personally say “Hellraiser” in space would be more fitting…if there wasn’t already “Hellraiser: Bloodline”…which took place in space. But even though “Event Horizon” takes the stories of previous horror flicks and tosses them in a blender, the final result comes out looking…unique, despite its unoriginality. I remember viewing this once before, when it was first released on VHS. My second viewing was…well, now. Yet I could still remember “Event Horizon” with a surprising clarity. I honestly believe “Event Horizon” is just as memorable as the films it borrows from, even if it’s not AS good. Why is this? “Event Horizon“‘s strengths do stand out and its weaknesses are interesting to discuss. Everything about the movie- good or bad- contributes to establishing its identity. I’ve always felt that the most important attribute of a film is to stay within our minds, whether in a good way or a bad way, because otherwise it would just become obscure over time. Compare this to “Doomsday”, which also borrowed a lot of material from other flicks, but is forgettable because it reminds us TOO MUCH of said flicks. “Event Horizon” uses its inspirations to provide the set-up and maybe a few scenes, but it becomes its own movie in the process.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like everything about it, even if its flaws helped “Event Horizon” stay within our minds. I can’t help but feel that this would’ve been so much better if it had been made in the 80’s, where atmosphere and suspense would’ve been the primary focus. One of the problems with “Event Horizon” is that it reeks of being made in the 90’s. It relies way too much on CGI, which I’ve never felt meshed well with the horror genre, especially when the CGI has aged rather awkwardly. The 90’s also loved its token black characters, whose wise cracks were intended to be endearing in theory, but usually were annoying in execution. To be fair, I remember liking Cooper (Richard T. Jones) as a kid and at least he’s shown to be competent at his job. But it did sometimes cause some tone problems, especially during the rather grim 3rd act. Actually, the dialogue in general fits firmly within the decade. It tries too hard to sound poetic and deep, but it feels incredibly unnatural. The speeches can be so forced that they start becoming unintentionally amusing, but I noticed this kind of shit A LOT during the 90’s. Screenwriters of that age apparently did not believe in subtlety. Characters will yell “NOOOO!” in an overly dramatic fashion, which ended up being funnier than anything Cooper said or did. But of course, the second half of the 90’s was notorious for frowning upon violence, which is allegedly the biggest reason for “Event Horizon” being butchered in the editing room. Still, what we get in the gore department is still pretty hardcore, so the filmmakers at least were able to resist that unspoken rule to a point. Also, I noticed that 90’s films weren’t very patient when it came to the pacing. “Event Horizon” has a lot more action than most horror flicks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having it conclude with a fist fight between Laurence Fisburne and the ship was…fucking stupid.
Is “Event Horizon” scary? Sometimes. It moves too quickly to generate suspense, but at least that cements the film as ‘entertaining’. I was never bored, in spite of all its flaws. Nevertheless, there are a handful of dread soaked, spooky moments. The sound design is superb, getting under our skin with mysterious noises or even silence. The lighting is awesome, often being a character in of itself. When Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) is crawling through those green-lit vents, I was impressed by the eye candy of the lighting as well as the foreboding which came with it. I also was surprised at how restrained Paul W.S Anderson could be in certain areas, such as when he shows us glimpses into the fates of the crew. The imagery is incredibly nightmarish, but it moves so quickly that you can’t really tell what is happening. You see enough to be freaked out, which is more effective than if they just showed the mayhem in detail. Without spending too much time praising individual sequences, let me give a shoutout to the bit where a character finds themselves being ejected into space without a suit. That was incredibly intense. Actually, in terms of individual scenes, most of the scare sequences worked well. There are a few cheap jump scares, but they drown underneath the genuine chills. But “Event Horizon” is more frightening in parts than it is as a whole.
As for the Event Horizon itself…it’s just as awesome as it is ridiculous. I mean, perhaps a sign that Dr. Weir isn’t totally sane from the beginning is how he designed this ship to be freaking terrifying. It has a techno-medieval feel, where corridors are filled with rows of spikes. The Event Horizon wasn’t really built to travel through space, it was built to be the set of a horror movie. At least “Alien”, while having a freaky set itself, looked like something I could accept as a cargo ship. But I can’t also deny that the Event Horizon looks freaking cool, even if its design is nonsensical. The director has a blast milking the location for all its worth, showing off all the props and rooms, while playing up the claustrophobia of being trapped on an evil spaceship. The crew is running out of oxygen too. That feeling of urgency makes the events on “Event Horizon” that much more compelling.
The characters themselves are rather thinly written, although maybe they were fleshed out more in the original cut. This is especially apparent with Stark (Joely Richardson), who is supposed to be the leading lady, but she’s absent throughout large portions of the film and never has any hinted backstory…or personality. Luckily, the casting choices were PERFECT and the characters become interesting thanks to the performances of their actors. In many cases, you can actually see their histories through their deliveries, such as with DJ (Jason Isaacs). Dr. Weir is the most compelling character, because his arc is the most engrossing and tragic. But everyone turns in fine performances, even if the 90’s styles of acting occasionally means they will be a little too over-the-top at times.
It has taken me about a week to finish this review because this final point is difficult to discuss. “Event Horizon” has so many great ideas locked within its premise that it’s nearly impossible for the film to fully explore them. I liked how the ship attacks people on a psychological level, but the way it’s handled is…muddled. This is a prime example of a movie that explains too much, yet explains too little. Tthe Event Horizon is INCREDIBLY inconsistent with its powers. Weir is suffering from hallucinations even before entering the ship, suggesting that the Event Horizon is near omnipresent from the beginning or Weir is already on the verge on insanity. I’d presume the latter, but outside of the nightmare sequences, he never shows any traces of madness. His arc is supposed to resemble Jack’s from “The Shining“, but there was a lot more foreshadowing that Jack wasn’t right in the head, long before he actually starts seeing things. Or what about a character who gets sucked into ‘hell’ and then attempts suicide? His voice and mannerisms suggest his body is being used as a vessel and indeed, he snaps out of it right before the airlock opens. So did the ship possess him? If so, why would the ship want to get away from itself? If not, what was with the second personality? If the ship wants to drag the crew into hell with it, why is it killing them when it’s not necessary at that point? Maybe it has the power to trap their souls, which actually is a distinct possibility when you consider how a character is resurrected…although why didn’t it bring back the original crew to cause terror? Plus, no one in the movie seems to consider that death might not be their salvation. Now, there are a lot of possibilities within these points. Maybe the Event Horizon wanted to terrify the crew by having its victim desire a brutal death instead of remaining on the vessel, or perhaps it wasn’t controlling him and instead chose to screw with him by removing his current memories? I’m all for ambiguity, but the problem with “Event Horizon” is that it feels less like the screenwriter is being intentionally ambiguous and more like he just isn’t thinking these ideas through. Perhaps the most extreme example is when a character is specifically told that the ship is causing hallucinations, but she runs after a phantom when she knows that person could not be there. This was obviously done to separate this character from the group, so she could die without problem. The justification could be that the ship was controlling her, but that’s just covering up some bad writing. Amusingly, the whole ‘villain pretending to be a loved one, fooling the hero even though they should know better’ was also a cliche of the 90’s and had appeared in Anderson’s previous flick, “Mortal Kombat“. Prior to that scene, I believed “Event Horizon” was fairly intelligent. But after that, I began to see every attempt at being mysterious as just conventional horror movie writing. Why is Weir seeing things before entering the Event Horizon? It’s probably just there to provide some jump scares before the actual scary stuff really begins. I’d be surprised if the writer actually intended for that to mean something.
But dumb doesn’t automatically mean ‘bad’, although both terms often coincide with each-other. So let me bring up my original statement: There are two ways you can approach “Event Horizon”. You can see it as an entertaining science fiction/horror hybrid that is elevated by its inspired ideas, awesome set designs and creative premise. Or you can view it as an action-horror flick that is frustrating because it squandered its inspired ideas, awesome set designs and creative premise in order to focus on dated CGI and dumbed down action sequences. I wanted “Event Horizon” to be much more than what it ultimately was, but that didn’t stop me from having fun. It had been nearly 10 years since I had previously experienced this flick, but it remained fresh within my mind- the good parts outweighing the bad parts. So it obviously did something right, especially when you consider how many others do like this movie. Unfortunately, whatever “Event Horizon” accomplished seems to have been dumb luck on Anderson’s part. He’s yet to top this and these days, he seems to prefer making those idiotic “Resident Evil” sequels. Actually, “Resident Evil: Retribution” also wasted its good ideas, so maybe “Event Horizon” itself was foreshadowing what we should expect from Paul W.S Anderson.
Violence: Rated R.
Nudity: There is some.
Overall: “Event Horizon” is definitely worth watching for what it does right, but I can’t guarantee you’ll like it based on what it does wrong. But everything considered, I am a fan.