Movie Review: Event Horizon

Note: I meant to post this months ago obviously, just after Halloween. I goofed up like a big dumb baby, didn’t notice that it didn’t actually go live, and now just got back to it.

 

What if Alien, The Shining, and Hellraiser all had sex?

You’d end up with…

Event Horizon

I had a great Halloween weekend: Pandemic Legacy and chicken wings on Friday night, writing all day Sunday…but what about Saturday, you ask? Saturday night, I went to a kick-ass Halloween party at my buddy’s house. I dressed as a Medieval plague doctor (with the beak mask) and played drinking games, hung out, just had a great time all-around. There was also an out of control fog machine adding to the fun. Oh! And a pit bull puppy, can’t forget that. She’s adorable.

We decided, naturally, to watch shitty Horror movies. The first we suffered through was The Ouija Experiment, and despite a few good disbelieving laughs, we just couldn’t make it through, so we switched to the nearly-as-bad Hayride 2. Was the first installment in that series any better? I doubt it. But who knows, sometimes sequels just suck.

Finally, after much beer and debating, we settled on the 1997, big-budget but “Meh”-received film Event Horizon, directed by Paul Anderson, and starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, and Joely Richardson. Now, despite it coming out nearly twenty years ago and being pretty well known, I had actually never seen nor even heard of Event Horizon! One of my friend’s said it was corny but good, and another said it was just utter garbage. The former convinced me, as I’m always up for new Sci-Fi Horror, and we got underway!

I was overall pleased with this movie, especially its premise: in the future, a spaceship (its name the title’s namesake) uses an experimental gravity drive to quickly bridge two distant points in space through the use of an artificial black hole. This, like the warp drive in Star Trek, would everything, allowing mankind to rapidly explore and settle the galaxy, and perhaps reach contact with distant intelligent life. The problem is, on its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon simply vanishes without a trace. That ill-fated voyage happened seven years before the movie’s plot begins, when another ship, commanded by Laurence Fishburne’s character Captain Miller, picks up a distress signal from the suddenly re-appeared Horizon, and proceeds to investigate. Accompanying Miller’s crew is the Event Horizon’s designer, Dr. William Weir, who himself is haunted by a dark past which grows all the darker as the story unfolds, harshly testing his sanity. I don’t want to give any more spoilers from there!

The set and costume design are as Alien-esque as that ominous premise would suggest, complete with a gloomy and industrial look not too different from modern sea-ship interiors, interlaced with high-tech control panels and futuristic spacesuits. Nearly everything is top-notch in the visuals department, (some visuals rely on dated 1997 CGI, though not any more than necessary,) and I found myself quickly drawn into this oddly familiar science fiction universe, eagerly anticipating what horrors from beyond the stars will befall our ill-prepared heroes.

The horror comes fast and furious. This is especially true in the infamous “blood orgy” scene, which, at least according to Wikipedia, was originally a much longer and even more graphic sequence, until poor feedback from test audiences (some viewers reportedly fainted!) convinced director Paul Anderson to cut much of it. I found more than enough suspense, space action, and disturbing imagery to whet my appetite. Most of the acting ranges from “Great” to “Fun Over-The-Top-ness,” and to my memory never got in the way of the plot or tone. The action scenes are cool and exciting and make maximum use of the special effects available by the budget and technology of the time.

I do think the overall delivery on the film’s central premise and initial foreboding is a tad underwhelming. There is corn here, to be sure. The final delivery is a nearly inherent problem with Horror movies: you, as the creator, establish an ominous setting and then build up in the viewer’s mind this ominous, big, bad, too-terrible-to-behold monster. It’s always just out of sight, always keeping to the shadows, always leaving the details to the imagination, only letting the viewer get a tiny peek behind the curtain, via sounds or glimpses or the aftermath of what this Thing does. But then, as the plot reaches a climax, you’re basically forced to show your hand, and your art faces this challenge: does your Big Baddie match the limitless monstrosity that the viewer has already formed in his or her mind? What people find scary is often surprisingly subjective, and it’s as a result difficult to reveal a monster which matches or exceeds what the viewer’s mind already formulated. Event Horizon does…passably well in that department. There is good imagery, there are great sound effects, but never the kind of payoff I hoped for, and that sadly weakens the film beyond what its foreshadowing implies.

Overall, I like this movie. Again, remember that my viewing environment was far from ideal and that fact may taint my opinion. But I saw enough to know that Event Horizon captures what Science Fiction Horror needs to get right: that existential dread of the unknown and incomprehensible chaos which lurks on the edges of human understanding, beyond the stars. I find it safe to say that H.P. Lovecraft codified that type of Modern Cosmic Horror, and that Paul Anderson’s film embodies a good example of it. The Science Fiction premise underlying the story is interesting, the setting is ominous, and the suspense does its job. I’ve seen many better Horror movies, but if you’re looking through recent decades for something new to you, and something not as critically acclaimed as, say, Alien or The Shining, Event Horizon is a good choice.

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