(Paul Anderson, US, 1997)
Although Event Horizon is a reasonably entertaining science fiction/ horror movie, its story and imagery are highly derivative of other films, and there is scant evidence of any originality or creativity in its construction. Starting as an uninspired imitation of Alien, Event Horizon suddenly turns into a tired retread of The Shining. Some of Clive Barker's highly idiosyncratic imagery from his classic Hellraiser is also used, to little effect. The Event Horizon itself is a gigantic spacecraft, designed by the scientist Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) to have the capacity to travel at the speed of light. The craft went missing, but 15 years after its launch, in the year 2040, it returns, sending a distorted subspace distress call. Weir is assigned a military team, who go on a mission to discover if there any survivors. There aren't. Instead there is something evil...
Event Horizon's initial closeness to Ridley Scott's Alien is glaringly obvious. Both films feature ships that have the low-tech feel of long distance trucks, and both crews squabble and speak in hard-boiled one liners. The Event Horizon crew are military, but this seems little more than a nod to James Cameron's Aliens. The plot unfolds in the same way as that of Alien: the crew go into suspended animation; they awake to discover that the distress call is actually a warning; and one of the crew then falls prey to an unforeseen danger. The second half of the film eschews Alien, and instead replays choice moments from Kubrick's The Shining. These include such well-known elements as: ghostly children; a supernatural nude woman in a bath; and a tidal wave of blood that roars through corridors. It would be easier to forgive the lack of originality of Philip Eisner's script if director Paul Anderson had sought to invest the material with his own style. Sadly, he hasn't, preferring to simply evoke the exact same influences in his visuals, has Eisner has in his words. Thus, when the story is influenced by Alien, the film takes on the smoky noir look of Ridley Scott. When The Shining is to the fore, the film starts to feature endless corridors. The film's pacing is also very uneven. After a long, slow build up, all the expendable characters suddenly killed off in quick succession just prior to the climax. It's almost as if the filmmakers suddenly realised that the film was nearly finished, and no one had died yet.
The Event Horizon ship itself is effectively creepy as a Gothic mansion in the tradition of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe movies. However, as a spaceship, its design seems highly improbable, being basically a cathedral rendered in metal, and full of columns and arches. After a techno-babble explanation of the ship's light-speed drive by Dr. Weir, the very unscientific visualisation of this engine as a giant metal gyroscope is laughable. Event Horizon does have some powerful moments. The movie generates a genuine scare by having Neill crawl deep inside the ship's access tunnels, searching for a fault. Working deep inside the ship, he finds himself surrounded by on all sides by endless corridors lined with printed circuits. At which point Weir hears a ghostly voice, and the lights go out. While simple, this is a stroke of genius, a neat evocation of the ghost in the machine, and exactly the sort of image a science fiction/ horror film should use. Unfortunately, the film doesn't follow through on it, and the scene has no pay off. A scene with a crew member trapped in an airlock is another high point, and here Anderson succeeds in generating some real tension. The overall concept of a haunted space ship is also a strong one, but this simply makes the film's insistence on imitating other, better, films all the more frustrating.
Sam Neill is as good as Weir, and, as in John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness, demonstrates that he can be extraordinarily powerful when he is allowed to let his usually rational, down to earth screen persona slip. Lawrence Fishburne is effective in the role of Captain Miller, and although there is little to his character he brings the requisite toughness to contrast with Weir. Sean Pertwee is also memorable as Smith, who he plays as an English football hooligan in space. It's also good to see an action film that doesn't follow the usual, tacitly racist majority, that kill off their black characters at the earliest opportunity. While it is heartening that Event Horizon's young English director wishes to make genre films, examples such as: Clive Barker's Hellraiser, and Richard Stanley's Dust Devil prove that it is possible to make a low budget genre film that is also innovative.