In this edition of Retro Spectate, ScreenCritics go to hell and back with Paul W.S. Anderson’s cult horror Event Horizon. Is this a nightmare worth revisiting?
Paul Thomas Anderson is a critically acclaimed filmmaker, helming such classics as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood and The Master. Paul W.S. Anderson is a critically lauded filmmaker, helming such clangers as Soldier, Death Race, The Three Musketeers 3D and Pompeii, not to mention being the creative overseer of the Resident Evil movie event series. Though it can be easy to get the two confused by name, there is absolutely no confusion over who is the better filmmaker.
However, they say a broken clock is right twice a day and Paul W.S. Anderson is no exception. Mortal Kombat, the film adaption of the smash hit fighting game series, is great popcorn fun and the first Resident Evil has some genuinely cool moments to enjoy. But here in Retro Spectate we’re talking about a movie that stands out from Anderson’s portfolio by a country mile, one that has gone on to influence game franchise Dead Space and build a strong cult following since its original home video release.
Event Horizon has a premise very similar to Alien; in the future of 2047, rescue ship Lewis and Clark is sent on a mission to investigate a distress signal coming from the Event Horizon, a starship that vanished seven years before. The crew of the Lewis and Clark, along with the Horizon’s designer Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), set out to rescue any survivors on board. However, upon reaching the ship they find themselves fighting for survival against demonic forces. See, the Horizon was built as an experiment in spacetime travel, with the ability to generate black holes for faster transport. But of course, those black holes lead to an unknown dimension filled with terror…
Like Alien and The Thing, we are introduced to a believable crew with lots of personality. Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) leads the rescue mission, bringing a dark secret with him that the hellish entities will soon prey upon. D.J. (Jason Isaacs) and Smith (Sean Pertwee) bring a strong intensity to proceedings, while Justin (Jack Noseworthy) and Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) bring vulnerability and fear. Rounding out the team, Starck (Joely Richardson) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones) carry a strength and humour that ties the crew together, allowing these contrasting and complementary emotions to create great tension.
So, we have a group of enjoyable characters and an interesting (if not very original) premise. Once Event Horizon starts to flow and the crew make contact with the titular ship, things begin to shine. What begins as a typical ‘haunted house’ setup soon turns into a genuinely scary series of events akin to the demonic body horror of Hellraiser and The Exorcist. One particularly shocking sequence sees the crew find a video log of the Horizon’s crew carrying out a sadistic and brutal orgy of sex and gore. The visuals toe the line between masterful and distasteful, leaving viewers in a very uncomfortable position. Indeed, a lot of Event Horizon‘s appeal is how effective it can be during the horror sequences, blending a clever build of tension and terror with the occasional jump scare or shocking payoff.
(Warning: Not safe for work!)
Though the narrative can get a little muddled when building to the main twist, Event Horizon is a visually arresting film that captured the dirty, rusted future aesthetic of Alien far better than Prometheus, as well as delivering some truly disturbing scenes of death and distress. The visual effects for the most part stand the test of time, though some of the late Nineties CGI shots look a little rough. By subverting the genre expectations of an extra-terrestrial menace and diving head-on into a world of sadism and Satanic imagery, Anderson and his crew crafted something special. Event Horizon feels like a sample of promise and potential that has yet to be seen from the director, though he is probably too busy counting his Resident Evil cash to care.
Event Horizon is fully worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a space-horror that doesn’t rely on alien attacks or scientific threats. Packed with gothic appeal, grim yet beautiful visuals and solid scares, it’s a true shame that the film is still so overlooked. Despite vicious studio edits and a rushed production, Event Horizon delivers a consistently unsettling experience that stays with you long after the credits roll.
“Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.”