Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Philip Eisner
Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishurne, Joely Richardson, Kathleen Quinlan, and Jason Issacs
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“What are you telling me? That this ship is alive?”
For the die-hard horror fan, blurring the lines of science fiction and horror can be a tricky one. Many don’t like films space and the future being mixed in with their films about ghosts, masked slashers, and demonic possession, and it’s understandable because sometimes, it can be an odd fit. Years ago, however, monster movies utilized visitors from outer space to great success. In fact, if not for UFOs and other out-of-this-world terrors, the actual horror output of the 1950s would have been quite sparse. However, occasionally a film will be released that blurs the line so well, that it can be truly considered more horror than science fiction. One such film released in the late 90s that did this better than most was Event Horizon. Though the director has gone on to upset many fans with his poor treatments of Resident Evil and Alien vs. Predator, most will tell you that Event Horizon is the one film in his filmography that they actually like...and upon viewing it, it is easy to see why.
It is the future. Mining has begun on Mars, and we’re just starting to colonize other planets and moons. One ship, the ‘Event Horizon’ was sent to explore the boundaries of the solar system. She never returned. Seven years later, a rescue crew aboard the ship ‘Lewis & Clark’ has been sent to retrieve any survivors and to find out what happened on their fateful mission. Among those in the rescue party are Dr. Weir (Sam Neil) and Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). After an accidental explosion renders their rescue ship unusable, the crew has no choice but to attempt to pilot the ‘Event Horizon’ back to civilization. Once they board the ship, however, strange things begin happening. Dr. Weir begins seeing visions of his recently deceased wife and each of the rescue crew members begin having similarly horrific hallucinations about events and people in their own lives. They later find a hellish, scrambled video diary entry from the Horizon’s last crew containing screaming people graphically mutilating their own bodies and a bizarre Latin phrase that later is found to be translated as “Save me…” What really went down on the ‘Event Horizon’, and will the rescue crew of the Lewis & Clark meet a similar fate?
Event Horizon is basically a haunted house movie set in space. The story and plot elements are very much 100% horror, only set against the backdrop of a spooky, abandoned space ship. Think of it as The Shining in space. It’s bad enough that you are many light years away from home, but you’re also having to deal with the paranormal. It’s a pretty scary concept, and Anderson makes the most of it. With his body of work, this may not sound like much, but this is definitely his most effective movie to date. He manages to pull of a few creepy and tense moments throughout. If you can, try to watch the film on DVD, as the 5.1 surround track makes the most of the film's many jump-scares. The plot works, the setting works, the characters are ones that you care about, and the ending is pretty cool, from the old school of last minute false scares...which was most famously done by Carrie. Without spoiling too much of the plot’s surprises, I will say that there is much more to the ship than the rescue crew is aware, and that Dr. Weir knows a great deal more than he’s telling. I will also say that Event Horizon is without a doubt the best marriage of horror and science fiction in a long, long time.
The film’s CGI is a mixed bag. For every good wide shot of the ship and its outer space surroundings, there is an awful shot of an object floating around inside the abandoned ship. Luckily, the CGI isn't overused a great deal. The cast Anderson chose for the film is incredible. It’s a joy seeing great actors like Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill playing off each other in scene after scene. It’s such an easy concept to play for 'camp value' or to go way over the top, but everyone plays everything deadly serious which makes the danger all the more believable and real. The crew’s reaction to the spooky goings-on of the ship make or break the movie, and thankfully everyone turns in a strong performance. You may remember the fragile Kathleen Quinlan from Apollo 13. Cast member Joely Richardson has most recently been seen on the popular TV show “Nip/Tuck” and most movie fans will recognize Jason Issacs from his sniveling turn as the vicious Col. Tavington in The Patriot. With the exception of the occasional bad CGI moments (which were still pretty decent for the time they were conceived) the film looks like a major $100 million dollar budgeted epic, but the actual dollar amount spent on the film was considerably less. The film opened in August of 1997 to both dismal reviews and box-office. Why it failed to find an audience, I’m not quite sure. I think mainstream audiences, like horror fans, have a sort of built-in resistance or hesitation to the two genres co-existing in the same film. Similar fates befell Leprechaun 4: In Space and Jason X upon their releases.
Though the film starts out in space, once the horror elements begin, setting becomes irrelevant and your focus turns to the very real, very evil dangers facing the crew. Anderson’s film has a feeling of dread that evokes that of the type of classical gothic chillers that were popular decades ago. If Hammer had made a horror movie in space, I imagine it would look very much like this one. Many scenes play out accompanied by flashes, similar to lightning against a castle’s wall. The design of the ‘Event Horizon’ itself is also based on that of the architecture from the gothic and medieval age. The gore level is pretty decent. Some of the more graphic shots are used in very speedy quick cuts toward the end. If you have the DVD and can do a slow-motion frame advance, you’ll get to see all the great, gory FX work that is only briefly glimpsed during the final few minutes of the film. Be warned, there is some pretty nasty stuff in there. It’s hard to believe this was the same guy that gave us an ultra-tame and bloodless Alien vs. Predator flick. Some truly superb practical FX and makeup work is on display in the film.
While Event Horizon still might not convince non-believers that horror and science fiction can co-exist successfully within the same film, I believe it is a film worthy of rediscover. If you’ve seen it and didn’t care much for it the first time around, give it another shot. Just because it takes place in space, doesn’t detract from the horror aspect at all. In fact, I believe it enhances it considerably. Yes, Anderson has given us nothing but garbage ever since, but if you watch this film, you can see that he can actually restrain himself at times and that he can deliver an enjoyable, well-directed horror film. Why he isn’t being more consistent, I cannot say. What I can say is that I really dig Event Horizon because it’s a thoroughly original idea executed in a very solid manner. If you like Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, you really need to see this movie. If you like films about demonic possession and haunted houses, you really need to give this movie a chance. It may not be the most pure-bred horror film around, but Event Horizon melts genres together in a much more satisfying manner than most of the others that have tried and failed. Liberate tutume, ex infernis! Rent it!
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