Event Horizon

2 stars.

Theatrical release: 8/15/1997
[R]; 1 hr. 35 min.

Screenplay by Philip Eisner
Produced by Jeremy Bolt, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Directed by Paul Anderson

Cast includes: Laurence Fishburne (Captain Joe Miller), Sam Neill (Dr. William Wier), Joely Richardson (Starck), Kathleen Quinlan (Peters), Richard T. Jones (Cooper), Jack Noseworthy (Justin), Jason Isaacs (D.J.), Sean Pertwee (Smith)

August 22, 1997

Review Text

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 clichés, 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 clichés to produce such simple-minded and ultimately laughable mayhem.

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6 comments on this post

    I am shocked at the lack of nerd rage comments. This movie seems to hold a special place in the hearts of so many scifi fans.

    While I've never obsessed over it to the extent of some, I still enjoy it as a horror movie first, scifi second.

    I think this review is right on. I remember seeing this film in the theater, and being sorely disapointed.

    For me, besides the characters behaving in ways that didn't match their supposed vocation, the next most glaring problem was the clock work way the film was assembled. I found myself counting down: "3... 2... 1... scare the audience... 3... 2... 1... scare the audience..." for darn near the duration of the film.

    The biggest problem I had with it, though, is the implied message- Once again we are presented with a Michael Crichton-esque moral: Not only are science and any sort of learning and striving to improve things bad, they always lead to horrible disaster. Not only did the FTL 'gravity drive' not work as intended, it sent the entire crew straight to hell and turned the ship evil. Right.

    And the plot partially hinging on the mis-translation of the recording in Latin... Not helping things either.

    I did manage to enjoy some aspects of the film- such as Fishburn's 2001-like airlock scene...

    It's curious that this movie has received so much love over the years, despite its obvious weaknesses identified by Jammer. I did enjoy it quite alot at the time it came out (as did my friends) but in retrospect, I have a hard time pinning down the exact reason. It is, in some respects, little more than a haunted house in space film so why do people love it so much?

    I am going to have to re-watch this and come to my own conclusion, but I have a hunch that Event Horizon succeeds in spite of its flaws, largely due to atmosphere and the strength of the underlying premise.

    The idea of cosmic horror, (the existence of vast malevolent forces within a nihilistic universe) which Lovecraft chiefly dealt with, seems to have an enduring pull on modern audiences. There's a sense in Event Horizon of this vast abyss just on the edge of our reality, cosmic, horrifying and utterly indifferent to us - like swimming in a deep ocean and glimpsing a shadow of some behemoth lurking beneath you. It really is the anti Star Trek, the anti humanist story.

    It is not a moral judgment against humans venturing into God's domain (the man wasn't meant to BS) but the acknowledgment that humans are ill equipped to deal with the universe just outside our tiny sliver of reality, and that venturing out too far may have cataclysmic consequences.

    I do think this Cthulhu Mythos vibe is what gives Event Horizon its enduring appeal, despite its obvious weaknesses. It also doesn't hurt to have strong actors involved, particularly Neil and Fishburn.

    I agree with Jason R. in that Event Horizon exceeds the sum of its parts. I think a large part of it was the casting of Sam Neill, who can make anything interesting, and Fishburne, who is so solid that he can fill in the holes in the story that may lack substance.

    Rather than stressing which parts of the film I liked, I'll instead call attention to a fascinating fan theory that Event Horizon takes place in the Warhammer 40K universe, and can function as a sort of prequel to that world. Anyone can Google it to find out specifics of the theory, which to whit is more of an interesting parallel rather than an attempt to ascribe intent in the script-writing. But that being said, I do think there's more substance to what the film describes as hell than a mere horror cliche. Having been a fan of the Hellraiser series in the past, I would say that the descriptions of hell there are, indeed, mere fantasy without any actual substance. Event horizon's apparent claim that space and time as we know it are a thin veil covering something more menacing is a premise that arouses my curiosity far more.

    I think this film is pretty dumb-fun (it's pretty openly cliche, openly treating haunted space ship as equivalent to classic/cliche haunted house) and it especially works as a cynical commentary/sort of dark spoof of Star Trek and 2001, not outright anti-science but critical of the idea that fast speed and discovery, advancing technology, going to new places and the people doing so are necessarily good, necessarily noble.

    Really the only thing I can remember about this movie was just how gross it was. WAY WAY more gory than I had anticipated going in.

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