Retrospective: Event Horizon (1998)


The original haunted house in space, panned by critics, barely making its costs back, loved and well known on TV and DVD. The typical cult movie and not without its problems. Event Horizon has a really cool idea with some really great visual design and a really nice little ghost story, but also lots of irritating problems which limits enjoyment of the movie and might explain why it comes from a director (Paul W.S. Anderson) who has done nothing but crap since.

As I have mentioned previously, I am a fan of sci-fi, in particular hard sci-fi and the cheap independent examples of the genre. In many ways this a perfect example of this as it from a small budget and a not particularly well know director with an interesting cast who all became better known a while after the movie.

It sells itself as ‘infinite space, infinite terror‘. I hate horror movies with a passion but Event Horizon does not fall comfortably into the genre. This is not particularly scary but when it is scary, it is very effective with jump scares and feeling generally menacing. The plot revolves around a space rescue vessel Lewis and Clark receiving a distress signal from a ship that disappeared seven years ago and has returned with its incredibly ill-disciplined crew where they pick up this charmless scientist. The crew comprises of Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew —Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson), pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee), Medical Technician Peters (Kathleen Quinlan), Engineer Ensign Justin (Jack Noseworthy), Rescue Technician Cooper (Richard T. Jones), and Trauma Doctor D.J. (Jason Isaacs) all joined for the mission by the Event Horizon’s designer Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill). When they visit the ship on a decaying orbit around Neptune the characters are introduced with a decent amount of depth, making them into a set of interesting figures on the whole. Fishburne plays a captain, in an almost identical role to the one he will play a year later as Morpheus in The Matrix. He’s even got a similar ship with the bloody moveable chair (that annoyed me for the simple reason that it was utterly pointless and on any ship as it wouldn’t work due to complexity).

The Event Horizon is the first faster than light craft and it has to pay a price to do so. That is the plot of the film, along with the increasingly creepy signs aboard and the steady racking up of the body count along with a rather dubious ending. It’s not a bad movie and I do enjoy it but its issues are frequent and reduce the enjoyment of the film.

Firstly, the characters are dull. I know I said that they are well fleshed out initially and quite interesting but they are stock characters and their fears are typical. The creepy scientist and his dead wife are so obvious, same with the captain and his dark past. It’s a really good idea which with a bit more creativity could have been more interesting. The second problem is some of the scripting. Yes, banging on about a script in anything resembling a horror movie is usually rather pointless as they are generally all bad bar a few exceptions but that doesn’t mean I give this movie a free pass. Lastly, as a little nitipick, some of the props look quite crap. There is also the very odd choice of music that must be mentioned which is odd and doesn’t make much sense.

Now the good thing is that it has a fantastic visual design. The Event Horizon is a magnificently creepy ship with all sorts of neat flowing designs from the very evil engine room to the more functional bridge with a very long and plot-important corridor in-between. It has a really nice gothic look to it. According to some parts of the fanbase it’s based off the ideas of Warhammer 40K with the FTL travel analogous to the Warp and how the Warp has in it a form of hell. It is really cool and really nicely designed ship with relatively sane explanations for why it’s designed how it is. Also their vessel the Lewis and Clark has a nice lived in feel and seems somewhere people have lived for at least a short time and has a nice tired, much modified look which adds to that feel that they are regular workers rather than something elite. Another good aspect is the fact that it has a proper build up. Nobody dies in the first hour and it has a real dénouement where we see the effect the ship has on the weakest member of the crew and the challenges of staying alive on Event Horizon. In many respects it has quite a lot in common with Japanese horror which is often considered a rather passive aggressive kind. ‘The Japanese approach to horror tends to be slow building, oppressive, emphasising the horror of being totally alone with something that hates you in a very passive-aggressive way’ (Zero Punctuation). That is what Event Horizon seems to maintain for most of the movie bar the rather stupid shootout at the end.

Review by Harry Riedl

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