Directors: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan
Watch Event Horizon online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play / Sky Store
All signs point to Event Horizon as a piece of 90s sci-fi dreck from a hack filmmaker. Negatively reviewed on release and a box office flop, Paul W.S. Anderson’s original 130 mins cut was deemed too gory by Paramount executives. Surprisingly, test screen audiences backed them up. Anderson was forced to edit out most of the blood-and-guts, but also key scenes that might have made the film’s main narrative stronger or less hectically paced, as well as fleshed out the characters. But ultimately, the plot isn’t what makes Event Horizon stand out. Since its miserable reception in the summer of 1997, Anderson’s movie has become a cult item; a film noted less for which masterworks Phil Eisener’s script lifts from (Alien, The Shining, Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate and Don’t Look Now) than its production design, its sinister atmosphere, its cast and the feeling, at least among admirers, that it’s the best Hellraiser sequel never made.
In 2040, the interstellar spaceship Event Horizon is orbiting Neptune, when it disappears without a trace. In 2047, a distress beacon from the ship is picked up and a recovery team sent to investigate. Led by the man who designed the craft, Sam Neill’s Doctor William Weir, the group soon come a cropper and realise they’ve stepped inside a waking nightmare.
The story is a mishmash of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939), a novel which had a seismic impact on the slasher genre, and the ‘Who goes there?’ trappings of Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (1951), not to mention Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1966) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). But this isn’t what makes Event Horizon an enjoyable and engaging horror flick. Neither is the ‘space exploration as blue collar grunt work’, mimicking Alien and played up in the relationships between Laurence Fishburne’s Captain Miller and his bantering, cynical crew. (The connection to Scott and the Alien series does go further, though: Anderson hired Adrian Biddle as cinematographer. The cold electric-blue hues which dominate Event Horizon are as much a nod to Aliens (1986) as they are to Hellraiser (1987), which Biddle, who started out working for Scott’s advertising agency, photographed for James Cameron.)
Event Horizon’s eerie grandeur and depiction of the solar system as a gloomy and terrifying place is aesthetically effective. Inside the ship, Biddle’s camerawork makes interiors appear claustrophobic and sepulchral. The ship, modelled on Paris’s iconic Notre Dame cathedral, hangs above Neptune in a way that recalls Salvador Dalí’s painting, Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951). A spaceship in the form of a crucifix neatly symbolises the film’s subtext (if we can call it such) regarding the perils of colonial pursuits and the theme of conquest gone array. The rescue vessel investigating the fate of the Event Horizon and her crew is named the Lewis and Clark (after the two men who led an 1804-1806 expedition into the Pacific Northwest of America). Both the Event Horizon ‘colonialists’ and the Lewis and Clark team venture too far into the unknown and pay a heavy price.
The price involves torments and debasements of the flesh that would give Hellraiser’s high priest of pain, Pinhead, a run for his money. It is this, with its screeching sound design and ear-piercing mix, that proved the major bugbear of Paramount suits and the MPAA, who threatened the movie with the dreaded NC17 rating. Hellraiser directly inspired the design of Event Horizon’s power core and gravity drive, too. The constantly spinning, interlocking gears and rings a homage to the puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration.
As well as Neill and Fishburne’s lantern-jawed hero, the cast includes Brit stalwarts Joely Richardson, Jon Pertwee, Jason Isaacs (hello) and Kathleen Quinlan. Of course, Neill is the standout. Doctor Weir is already a few sandwiches short of a picnic before the film starts – just look at the ship he’s designed, for Pete’s sake. The astrophysicist becomes increasingly unhinged, but Neill brings out a tragic quality and psychological brittleness to the role, meaning the scientist isn’t an outright villain and more a man with deep-seated guilt over the death of his wife. As the only person given an interesting arc in the drama, Neill does wonders with the material he was given, turning tripe into Tarkovsky.
What Event Horizon has most of all is plenty of expressionist horror style and ace practical effects, with a gothic vibe that is compelling and memorably ghoulish. These elements, along with Neill’s excellent performance, get the movie over the line and provide to this day its curiosity value as a cult hit. If the proposed Amazon TV reboot comes to pass, there is certainly enough scope and places for Event Horizon to go. ‘Stargate meets Hellraiser’ is what Anderson no doubt intended, but Paramount was too put off by the debauchery and violence inherent in the premise. The vaunted Director’s Cut is lost and likely will be forever, so a web series might allow the makers (director Adam Wingard is currently attached) to do the concept justice. In space, no one can hear you scream in iffy Latin.
Event Horizon is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.
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