Before falling into the rut of directing a “Resident Evil” film every two years, in 1997 Paul W.S Anderson directed “Event Horizon,” a science-fiction horror film that was pitched as “The Shining in Space.” It was generally panned by critics and was a box-office failure, but it is worth rediscovering for its strong cast, sense of dread, and nightmarish violence. The digital effects are a little dated of course, but the production design still works in that it convinces the audience that the film’s characters are standing in one of the worst places in the universe.
Set in 2047, a future when humanity has begun to colonize Mars and explore deep space, the film follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark a rescue ship led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). Along with the typical crew of engineers, pilots, navigators, and doctors who smoke in outer space, Miller has received orders to find the Event Horizon, an experimental ship that went missing seven years ago. Also onboard is Dr. Weir (Sam Neil) who dedicated his life to building the ship. With the help of a pencil and a page from a nudie magazine, he explains the Event Horizon has the capacity to tear a hole in the fabric of space/time and jump across the galaxy. The only sign of life coming from the Event Horizon is a transmission filled with screams, one of which is in Latin. Ship doctor D.J (Jason Isaacs) is a little rusty in his Biblical languages, but believes it says “Save me.”
Despite this clear foreshadowing of bad things to come, the Lewis and Clark finds the lost ship floating above what seems to be a thunderstorm above Neptune. Upon entering it, Captain Miller and his crew find no survivors, but a lot of blood and in a scene reminiscent of “Jaws,” a floating corpse. In the engine room they find the ship’s core, a giant rotating sphere surrounded by metal spikes. To the crew’s horror, Weir explains the sphere contains a black hole that allows the ship to open a portal and jump through space. The question is, a portal to where?
After the core opens up and swallows a crewmember, an explosion severely damages the Lewis and Clark forcing the entire crew to board the Event Horizon. The communication equipment is damaged, the oxygen will be depleted in 20 hours, and the clock is now ticking. As if that was not bad enough, the crew begins to see things, or rather see people who died years ago. Weir sees the ghost of his wife who slit her wrist in a bathtub while Miller is haunted by a man he left to burn in zero gravity. Starck (Joely Richardson), Miller’s second in command, comes up with the theory that the ship is reacting to them, like an immune system. Or as Smith (Sean Pertwee) the pilot puts it, “This ship is fuc***.”
There are a number of clichés here, from a character talking about getting strange readings on his equipment and scary moments caused by something jumping out of a corner. Yet most of these scary moments are well earned thanks to the ominous score by Michael Kamen that helps keep the tension levels tense throughout. Plus when a man suddenly jumps into frame with no eyes and starts vivisecting another man with very sharp instruments I defy you not to get jumpy.
In addition to the blood, of which there is plenty especially in a scene that seems directly lifted from “The Shining,” the film has a pretty scary premise to begin with. Characters debate the wisdom of pushing science to its breaking point and whether or not there is such a place as hell. It’s bad enough to be stuck on a floating tomb, but to be stuck on a ship that may have opened a door to the devil’s home? You are in for one nightmare of a ride.
The acting, delivered by a stellar cast, is solid throughout and the practical effects stand the test of time. Reportedly the film’s initial cut ran 130 minutes as opposed to its current 95 minutes, because the studio ordered Anderson to cut out some of the more gory scenes. Given how rare it is to see an R-rated science-fiction movie with this level of violence and this good of a story, these scenes should be dusted out and re-released on a director’s cut.
(“Event Horizon” is available on special collector’s edition on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)