This sci-fi horror film is one of those weird movies best described as “fascinating failure”. It undercooks or burns most of its ingredients and overall doesn’t really work, but is somehow worth watching regardless.
Released in 1997 to commercial indifference and critical disdain, Event Horizon managed to stick around, developing something of a cult following and a divisive reputation. Some people genuinely like it while others are genuinely puzzled by the idea that anyone could like it. After watching the movie, I think I can understand both camps. At the very least, for all its many faults, you have to give the film some credit for aiming high.
Set in 2047, Event Horizon is named after a revolutionary spaceship with a black hole drive, which went missing during its maiden voyage some years prior. When it unexpectedly re-appears in the orbit of Neptune, a rescue team including the ship’s original designer, Dr William Weir (Sam Neill), is sent to investigate and look for survivors. They find no signs of human life, but it soon becomes clear that some other form of life is onboard, and that the original crew had come to some horrific end of madness and blood. Wherever Event Horizon had disappeared, it had warped the ship into something malevolent.
The one indisputable glory of this movie is its superb set design, an imaginative blend of futuristic and medieval that evokes gothic cathedrals and nightmarish dungeons. Granted, it may not always be plausible; why on earth would you install giant spikes in the gravity engine room? (More importantly, why would you put scary giant spikes in your horror movie and not have someone impaled on them? Chekhov’s spikes anyone?) Nitpicking at practicalities aside, this unique visual style does a lot to make the movie feel more than a sum of its nods and influences, among them Alien, The Shining, Solaris and Hellraiser.
This is however where pure praise ends, because while Event Horizon plays around with some interesting ideas, it ultimately misses the mark. It’s hard to say whether the blame should be placed squarely at the feet of director Paul W. S. Anderson, or the unwelcome studio meddling resulting in rushed filming and editing, or both. Whatever the case, few things are executed as well as they could have been. There are some unsettling, nasty and effective moments of gore and extreme body horror, but at other times they come off as ludicrous and trashy, especially during the overblown finale. The intriguing Lovecraftian elements and religious themes could have done with more focus. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things to imagination, but on the other hand too much vagueness is not beneficial either.
While the cast is filled with solid actors, few make an impact outside of always-watchable Sam Neill, who has some good hammy fun in the second half of the movie, and Laurence Fishburne, bringing gravitas as the taciturn Captain Miller. Richard T. Jones makes an impact for all the wrong reasons as a 90s caricature of a sassy quipping sidekick who creates tonal dissonance at the worst moments. As the movie progresses, some members of the rescue team become psychologically tormented by the harrowing memories from their past, but again, none are given enough time and attention to have real weight.
“Could have done better” is basically the appropriate way to sum up the film, but it also has enough striking imagery and interesting ideas to make me feel glad for watching it. Apparently there’s Event Horizon TV series in development; it remains to be seen if it’s any good (and if it has the guts (heh) to stick with the memorably gruesome imagery of the original), but there’s definitely a potential.