I’ve been repeatedly harsh on the output of Paul W.S. Anderson thanks to his seemingly never ending stream of empty video game adaptations and vapid blockbusters and yet in life every rule has an exception – behold the cult glory that is Event Horzion.
Depending on what your description of Anderson’s space faring frightener actually is – The Shining crossed with Alien or simply a version of Hellraiser in space that does Hellraiser in space way better than the actual movie that put Hellraiser in space – there’s no doubt that it’s an endearing little fucker that’s long since transcended it’s rushed post production and poor box office to become a legitimate cult favorite.
So why exactly has it endured when so many of Anderson’s films almost seem instantly destined for the bargin bin at a local petrol station? Well, prepare to blast off into regions of the solar system that’ll make you soil your space suit as we board the Event Horizon to see what’s what.
Rescue vessel the Lewis & Clarke and it’s disgruntled crew are heading out to Neptune to rendezvous with the Event Horizon, an exploratory starship that mysteriously vanished seven years ago while on it’s maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri. Joining the no-nonsense Captain Miller and his bickering subordinates is Dr. William Weir, the man who designed the wayward craft and who is still trying to adjust to his wife’s suicide, but upon docking with the ship, it becomes obvious that something’s pretty off about the strangely deserted vessel.
Weir admits that the Event Horizon is equipped with an experimental mode of travel known as a gravity drive that allowed the ship to bend space-time and after it attempted to activate it, wherever the ship went, it never came back… until now.
With no clue as to where the Event Horizon actually went (quick clue: nowhere good) and the only clues left as to what happened to its crew is a mauled, frozen body, a garbled video message and some suspicious smears of crimson on the walls, each of the crew of the Lewis & Clarke find themselves succumbing to vivid hallucinations of their deepest, darkest fears, be it phobias, past trauma or dead loved ones.
It seems that wherever hellish dimension the Event Horizon has been languishing in for seven years, it’s contaminated the craft in pure evil that violently consumed it’s original crew in an orgy of self mutilation and murder and now it wants to do the same to the denizens of the Lewis & Clarke.
As the ship reaps these fresh bout of victims one by one, Captain Miller desperately tries to find a way out before a determined Weir, who has become utterly corrupted by the evil that has commandeered his invention, fires up the gravity drive and takes the survivors on a one way trip back to the demented hellscape it came from.
Event Horizon is one of those movies that’s such a perfect patchwork of other movies, it becomes it’s own, highly enjoyable mass that feels overwhelmingly familiar while simultaneously feeling legitimately unpredictable – or at least it did in 1997.
The for a film set in the airless void of space, the movie exudes an incredible amount of atmosphere which comes from some smart and surprisingly subtle (especially for Anderson) use of CGI. Empty corridors devoid of gravity and made exponentially more creepy as various bits of detritus such as water bottles and wrenches float lazily through the air and an early introduction of Sam Neill’s Dr. Weir with a spiraling tracking shot physically disorientates you as we pull away from the window of an orbiting space station. To complement this, the production design is superlative with the meat and potatoes look of the Lewis & Clarke giving way to the much more ornate Event Horizon which looks like some vast, monstrous, industrial cathedral that’s somehow been blasted into space.
In comparison, the humans characters admittedly have slightly less character than the titular ship, but luckily these stock archetypes (abrupt but honorable Captain, twitchy surgeon, motherly medical technician, grouchy pilot) are portrayed by a clutch of charismatic character actors and is headed up by that singularity of human gravitas known as Lawrence Fishburn who, despite most of his lines being various barked orders, gives the flick a strong centre and even gets a Quint-from-Jaws speech and a final, noble sacrifice to round things off. On the other side of the coin, dependable, old Sam Neill gets to play hype man to the titular ship between slowly descending into an sort of intergalactic cross between a Cenobite and Jack Torrance and much like Fishburne, his established, down-earth-ness makes the more outlandish aspects of the plot feel starkly threatening. The rest of the bodies, a familiar selection of Anderson regulars (hello Sean Pertwee and Jason Issacs) and 90’s character actors who coincidentally showed up in Breakdown with Kurt Russell the same year (Kathleen Quinlan, Jack Noseworthy) fill their roles well, although sometimes it feels that Richard T. Jones’ comic relief seems to have jet packed in from another movie like someone stuck a Wayans brother into Ridley Scott’s Alien. Speaking of Scott, there’s images lurking in this movie that invoke the same awe and dread seen in that original slice of classic, 1979, sci-fi horror with the first viewing of the gravity drive revealing it to be a massive, gyroscope located in a big, spikey, round room that suggests feelings that the Cerebro room from X-Men is going through a death metal phase and the rotating, meat grinder looking corridor that leads to said room puts out better “stay the fuck away” vibes than a stay out sign ever could.
While scary sets and emotive actors do the film proud, Anderson admirably doesn’t hold back on spraying the red stuff everywhere too and the Clive Barker-esque flashes of what tortures befell the original crew are brief but awesomely jarring which leads us to a burning question that’s undoubtedly kept it’s cult flame steadily flickering over the last 25 years – the lost, thirty minutes longer, directors cut.
Rumoured to contain way more back story for the crew and even more grue, the chances of seeing this expanded version is precisely nil due to the footage being lost, but the best compliment you could possibly give Event Horizon is that it arguably doesn’t need restoring as it’s flawed, but entertainly rapid pace is memorable enough.
Firm proof that every filmmaker has at least one great film in them, Anderson proved once again that in space, no one can hear you scream long before he fumbled the Alien franchise.