Thursday, November 15, 2012

Off Script: Event Horizon

Film: Event Horizon
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

One of the staples of the horror genre is the basic haunted house. The premise is simple: you put a bunch of people into a cursed location and let them get attacked by whatever is there in the cursed location. The basic problem with the haunted house is that it’s a house, and all someone needs to do is get out. Heck, jumping out a window gets you outside. I realize that getting out is often easier said than done, but it’s there as a possibility. The next step in the evolution of the haunted house is to put it somewhere in which escape is impossible. The most obvious choice is outer space. The unknown reaches of outer space are a natural place for horror, which is why Hellraiser and Friday the 13th went there eventually. It’s what makes the Alien franchise good for at least two films. It’s also the central conceit behind Event Horizon.

Seven years before the start of the film, an experimental spacecraft called the Event Horizon was launched. Unknown to the public, the ship was created to essentially travel through self-created wormholes to travel across eons of trackless space in an instant, opening up the entire galaxy for human exploration. However, the ship vanished, presumed destroyed. In the present of the film, the ship has returned and is in a decaying orbit around Neptune. Naturally curious, a rescue team is sent to recover what it can. Accompanying the team is scientist Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), who built the drive that creates the gateways. The crew is led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), seconded by Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson), an staffed by a team of rescue technicians, medics, emergency repair people, and a pilot.

Where we end up going here shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given that this is a horror movie. It shouldn’t be anything of a shock that we’re not going to find unicorns and rainbows on the deck of the Event Horizon. No, our intrepid crew goes marching forward onto the hulk of the ship, not quite understanding why the life readings are so strange. One of the tech-centered crew members (Jack Noseworthy) investigates the gravity drive at the core of the ship and is suddenly sucked into the equivalent of a black hole, and suddenly all hell starts to break loose, pretty much literally. Crew members start having hallucinations of past traumas and guilt, but they seem far more real than hallucinations. Particularly affected are Dr. Weir and Captain Miller. It’s Weir, though, who seems to accept these hallucinations, welcoming them into the hell that awaits them on the other side of the gravity well.

Event Horizon’s elevator pitch could be summed up a number of different ways. In one sense, it’s “Hellraiser in outer space,” and it’s a better version of this than the official Clive Barker property that did the same thing. It has a lot of genetic similarity to haunted house films like The Haunting as well, and even has some of the claustrophobia of films like Alien and The Thing and the madness of The Shining, although it’s not nearly as good as those three films. Still, Event Horizon is sadly underrated. While I have a fan’s appreciation for Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat and I love the cheese level of Soldier, this is certainly his best film. Sadly, that’s not saying much.

But don’t sell it short. Event Horizon is a surprisingly entertaining little spook story. The ship design of the Event Horizon itself is fantastic. The spinning gravity drive at the heart of the ship intentionally evokes thoughts of the complicated puzzle box from the Hellraiser series. The corridor leading up to the drive, though, a series of spinning metal blade-like projections, is completely disorienting and offers the visual look of a meat grinder or abattoir. A great deal of thought went into the design of this film, and if it is unsuccessful in many ways, it is completely successful in creating a disturbing, increasingly phobic and paranoiac atmosphere.

However, I think the film is better than just that. There are moments of extreme violence in the film, but we get this only in flashes, rarely able to concentrate on them for any length of time. It’s effective, though, because these startling moments of extreme brutality and carnage (and I do mean extreme—think “meat grinder” again) are disturbing, and remain with us on a subconscious level. How gory is it? Anderson allegedly cut 20 minutes of violence to get it down to an R-rating.

Ultimately, not everything holds together perfectly in the film, but it nonetheless brings the gross-out as well as something approaching true terror in places. There are implications made here that resonate long after the film is over.

In short, Event Horizon is pretty successful at doing exactly what it wants to do—it creates a genuine atmosphere of fear, offers something truly horrible to make us uneasy, and manages to carry through all the way to the end in keeping its audience off balance at just how far the film will go. This is what filmmakers of horror should be looking to do—not only scare us when the film is going, but cause us to think our way into being more disturbed in the moments and hours after the film is done. For that, Event Horizon is a worthy addition to anyone’s list of enjoyable horror films.

You want a complaint? Sure—the song over the closing credits is perhaps the worst choice for closing music I can think of in recent memory. Dumb, dumb choice.

Why to watch Event Horizon: It’s the “Hellraiser in space” film we wanted.
Why not to watch: Some pretty gruesome stuff.


  1. I liked the first half of this film quite a bit, and I disliked the second half of this film quite a bit. What was the dividing line? When they made the evil manifest in a person. Prior to that it was "the universe" or just "something man does not yet know" that was causing the issues. This was truly suspenseful because literally anything could happen. Comparisons to 1963's The Haunting are entirely warranted.

    When they made the primary evil just another psycho running around doing bad things, though, the movie took a precipitous nosedive for me.

    (See also: 2007's Sunshine which is almost a plot point by plot point remake of Event Horizon, just with a British accent and a director with a more impressive resume.)

  2. It's funny, because when I read the first two sections of your comment, I thought, "Sounds like Sunshine." That's a movie that really disappointed me. The first part is so good, so wonderfully good. It's smart, it's beautifully filmed and contains such marvelous images and great shots. And turns into a slasher.

    I have less of a problem with it in Event Horizon because it's already got horror elements in that first half. They didn't need to go there with it, and I agree that it would have likely been better if the adversary had simply remained the ship. I think, though, for the ending they wanted, they needed a physical manifestation on board.

    1. "I think, though, for the ending they wanted, they needed a physical manifestation on board."

      I agree. They felt they had to give the others an antagonist they could physically fight in order to satisfy the viewers.

    2. As I say, it didn't bother me a ton. However, Weir's "conversion" is the weakest narrative point of the movie.

  3. I've only seen Event Horizon once, and that was in the theaters. I dragged some friends along and told them it was a sci-fi film and didn't realize it was so nasty. I think it has some flaws, but the imagery is very effective. I still remember some of the "LET ME SHOW YOU HELL!" moments 15 years later, so that says a lot about how effective it is.

  4. Big fan of the movie. Horror is at its best when it doesn't give clear answers about a threat and EVENT HORIZON does an amazing job at reflecting your worst fears without putting silly demons responsible, so the viewers can have closure. It's a glimpse into a world too big and chaotic for humans to understand. Loved it.

  5. My favorite moment in the movie is when the guy walks into the airlock and then, just before he's jettisoned into space, wakes up and realizes what he's done. It just plays so damn well.