The year is 2047. The crew of the rescue vessel Lewis & Clark is sent on a salvage mission to investigate the starship Event Horizon, which has been missing for seven years but has recently reappeared in orbit around Neptune. Why has the ship been missing for so long? Where did it go? What happened to the crew? How did it come back? And just what has the ship brought back with it?
Those are the questions of Event Horizon, a mediocre sci-fi thriller with a script that seems to enjoy posing interesting questions only to answer them with uninteresting horror cliches, frequently borrowing from other genre pictures.
The uninspired science fiction mayhem that characterizes Event Horizon only highlights how rare and wonderful an awe-inspiring film like Contact truly is. Too rarely, it seems, are sci-fi premises in mainstream Hollywood allowed to think or possess imagination. More often, they exist for their cheap thrill content, so we can wait in suspense for creatures or objects to jump out from the shadows.
In all fairness, the creepy intentions of Event Horizon don't really place it in the same genre as a drama like Contact. The aims here are suspense and violence—potboiler entertainment on a more basic level. To that end, Event Horizon begins with an effective premise and plenty of claustrophobia. The spaceship settings provide just enough space so that each crew member can be left alone at one point or another, for obvious reasons. And once the crew discovers the Event Horizon in orbit around Neptune, they board it to find nothing but the dead and dismembered—a crew that fell victim to unspeakable self-mutilation.
The most impressive aspect of the film is the production design by Joseph Bennett. The interior sets of the Event Horizon are ambitious, featuring an architecture that certainly doesn't make one feel welcome or safe. (Why would anyone build something like this when people have to live on it?) This ship can best be described as "very mean-looking." Under Paul Anderson's dark and sometimes atmospheric direction the ship is always foreboding—though the nonstop lightning storm in the Neptune atmosphere might have been pushing it.
The film's most interesting character is Dr. Wier (Sam Neill), who remains watchable because he's the one member of the crew who we suspect can't be trusted. He designed the Event Horizon and its mysterious, experimental "gravity drive," which was supposed to send the starship across the galaxy instantaneously, using a method of travel which alludes to "folding space." Wier has his own agenda, and as the film progresses, his role and his mysterious hallucinations become increasingly important in the plot.
Laurence Fishburne plays the captain of the Lewis & Clark, and brings a calm professionalism to the role of mission commander. Unfortunately, the character itself is all but undefined; we hardly get to know him—or get to know anybody, for that matter.
Indeed, the most frustrating aspect of Event Horizon is the extremely limited development of the characters. Each character is provided precisely one attribute—some element or another from his or her own past—which is used to drive the plot in obvious directions. It would seem the Event Horizon has been somewhere truly frightening, and has taken on a "life" of its own. No points for guessing that each character's personal past will come back to haunt him or her, courtesy of the ship's ability to manipulate minds and induce hallucinations.
This idea doesn't sound bad in theory, but in practice the film does very little interesting or psychologically frightening with it. Instead, it constantly puts characters alone in dark rooms. Again and again I kept asking myself why the crew would willfully choose to split up and walk down corridors alone knowing what they'd seen (this is a crew whose training video should've been Scream).
Particularly near the very end of the film, the script by Philip Eisner begins to turn desperate. The ludicrous revelations—glibly grotesque imagery and sadism, an apparent demonic possession, and even the rather ridiculous notion of crossing into "hell"—all end up being merely silly when they should be shocking. The problem is that the screenplay lacks punch. These revelations ultimately come off as entirely contrived, as if the filmmakers couldn't think of a better way of explaining where the Event Horizon had been, or why. And the painfully superficial reference to "ultimate evil" is simply too flimsy to carry the last half of the movie.
The result is a rather ineffective B-movie mishmash of elements inspired by Alien (many scenes featuring characters alone in dark areas) and Hellraiser (an abundance of bloodletting and so-called "evil" for the sake of inserting horror-genre special effects). It's hard to care about cardboard characters who are all too obviously destined to be picked off one by one, and it's hard to care about a plot that uses so many cliches to produce such simple-minded and ultimately laughable mayhem.