When it comes to sci-fi guilty pleasure, Event Horizon (1997) is the full package. The science supporting the story might be far-fetched, sometimes silly too, but damn, what an entertaining trip it is.
In Event Horizon (1997), Sam Neill plays an enigmatic scientist Dr. William Weir who joins the crew of a ship Lewis and Clark. Weir’s mission is to retrieve a lost-in-space spacecraft Event Horizon, once rumored to be lost during an inter-dimensional journey. But the moment the crew finds themselves on the mysterious ship, they discover a horrible truth about the effects of its cosmic travels.
Right from the start, Event Horizon (1997) reveals its limited budget. CGI appears to be of lower quality than most big-budget sci-fi films – let’s say any of Steven Spielberg’s features from around the same time. Fortunately, since most of the story takes place inside either of the two ships, the dodgy quality of space sequences wasn’t much of an issue. Once we leave the establishing shots, the camera meanders into the ship interiors that are mostly dominated by shades of green, silver, and black.
After we get to settle in a bit, director Paul Anderson concludes the exposition part in just one scene – the platitudinous crew meeting when their fate is about to be sealed by a mission that will go horribly wrong. Luckily for us, that horribly wrong part arrives early. Anderson’s brutally honest – this isn’t a mind-bending masterpiece, but a piece of B-entertainment that quickly gets the ball rolling.
Event Horizon (1997) is spot-on scary – at times, at least
Given the often shoddy quality of space horrors made on tight budgets, Event Horizon (1997) truly nails its scary moments. Upon entering the haunted spaceship, most crew members begin to experience hallucinations that reflect their fears and sense of guilt, as if the ship scanned their minds. Anderson puts these visions of torment to use. The entire cavalry from haunted-house stories checks in – ghosts, strange sounds, and minds losing their shit.
Let me also point out that Event Horizon (1997) withholds from gratuitous violence.
In about one or two scenes, the movie goes bloody savage, however, considering the potential that lies within the haunted ship concept, there’s space for more gore. Only when horror escalates, when it spills onto every corner of the ship leaving no other way but to face it – that is the film’s finale – Event Horizon (1997) unlocks its true scariness. The last face-off between the evil force and the last man standing is admittedly a pretty decent reward for the “milder” treatment earlier.
While I’m at it, Sam Neill makes the horrors vivid on his own. Dr. Weir is a man devoted to the mission of finding Event Horizon, yet he quickly turns into a poison-tongued manipulator whose agenda might not be the crew’s well-being. Weir isn’t particularly likable either, but Neill has a way of concealing that slippery nature until Event Horizon (1997) reaches its turning point when Weir’s plan comes in full swing. Sam Neill pulled off zanier performances before – take Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession (1981) – yet Phillip Eisner’s script doesn’t guarantee even half of Żuławski’s complexity and unease.
At the same time, the movie can’t be described without emphasizing the silly science that backs it up. Like in most of the occult-rituals-gone-wrong themes, evil arrives uninvited. In order to legitimize the story, writer Phillip Eisner conjures up a dimension-bending, black-hole-traveling machine that takes a deadly wrong course.
And so Dr. Weir plays dummy, meanwhile, the whole crew lacks thinking to put the pieces together. To say that they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed might not be enough. One stand-out is Laurence Fishburne’s devoted captain, who probably could have figured this evil plot earlier if his crew wasn’t so half-witted. And sure, every horror movie needs its cannon fodder, and apparently, there’s rarely a better selection than a bunch of lone astronauts.
Which, by the way, makes you wonder – how come people who fly in space are just as dumb as teenagers in horror movies?
All things considered, Event Horizon (1997) satisfied my hunger for a goofy space horror that won’t even bother to be scientifically relevant. It’s more of a ghost story set on a spaceship, conceptually closer to Roman Polański The Ninth Gate (1999) than Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). In its cheesy manner, this is a film that delivers on its thin premise and makes up for a nice addition in a slightly under-populated horror subgenre.
Event Horizon (1997)
Director: Paul Anderson
Writer: Phillip Eisner
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Cathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle