The UnPopular Opinion: Event Horizon
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
16 years ago this August, a movie hit theaters during the twilight of the summer and starred Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Jason Isaacs and was designed to be "THE SHINING in space". It proceeded to gross an abysmal $47 million worldwide and hit a nice 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie Despite this, director Paul W.S. Anderson went on to direct several more films including the classics SOLDIER, RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. Okay, so that last line was bullshit, but the movie I am talking about, EVENT HORIZON, actually was a damn good flick and likely the best of Anderson's career.
Now, some may say that calling this Anderson's best is akin to saying someone is the tallest midget, but I have always found EVENT HORIZON to be a well made horror movie hiding under a science fiction premise. The horror reminds me greatly of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and the writings of Clive Barker. Even Danny Boyle's excellent SUNSHINE borrows their villain from EVENT HORIZON. So, to say this film is in good company would be an understatement. What weaknesses it has it makes up for as a stylish popcorn flick. Do you disagree? Let us discuss.
Morpheus ponders getting a better crew.
EVENT HORIZON is a movie that starts out using the age old horror cliche of a haunted house, except here instead of a house it is a spaceship. A craft that mysteriously disappeared has suddenly returned seven years later abandoned close to the planet Neptune. The crew ordered with venturing to the Event Horizon is led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). Along with his crew and the creator of the Event Horizon, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), they journey to the ship and begin their mission. What they find is the remnants of a bloody massacre and none of the original crew. After bizarre circumstances cripple their ship, all are forced to board the Event Horizon where hell, literally, breaks loose.
The resulting hallucinatory visions endured by the crew truly are reminiscent of the visions experienced by Jack Torrance in THE SHINING. They are a mixture of ideal dreams, memories of loved ones, and an undercurrent of horrifying Lovecraftian abominations. One by one, the crew begin to get picked off by the entity that consumed the Event Horizon and it's crew. The origins of this being are left vague: was it an alien creature, something from a parallel universe, or true monsters from beyond space and time? We are left to question, like any good ghost story, whether our protagonists are free of their torment or just temporarily keeping it at bay.
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The critical consensus on EVENT HORIZON was that it was derivative and unoriginal. I find that it still holds up incredibly well today as a great example of how to make a horror movie. The ornate and gothic spaceship may remind you of the designs of vessels in the ALIEN films, but they also feel wholly their own. The ship's gravity drive with it's huge spinning orb and cavernous chamber may remind you of some of the settings in the HELLRAISER movies, but it also provides a key location in the film that is both a safe zone and a frightening catacomb. Throughout the movie you are reminded that this is set in outer space and yet almost the entire film could be transplanted to a house on a hill in any country and it would still work. Some may consider that derivative but I consider that quality filmmaking. This isn't JASON X where you are simply putting a slasher movie in space, EVENT HORIZON successfully takes a story that could have been told on Earth, moves it to a science fiction setting, and the film works.
EVENT HORIZON never tries to be more than a fun time at the movies. Paul W.S. Anderson eventually lost his way as a filmmaker when he decided that his style was all that he needed and failed to deliver a satisfactory screenplay. Writer Phillip Eisner and an uncredited Andrew Kevin Walker populate EVENT HORIZON with character types that are fleshed out by quality actors. Laurence Fishburne is solid as our stoic captain, Joely Richardson is well placed as his second in command, Jason Isaacs plays his small role as the ship's doctor with his expected gravitas, and the great Sam Neill is perfect as the conflicted scientist who succumbs to the madness within his creation. EVENT HORIZON came one year after Sam Neill's turn in John Carpenter's vastly underrated IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Both of those movies make one hell of a scary movie double feature.
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When I think about movies like EVENT HORIZON failing at the box office and then becoming cult classics on DVD, it makes me wonder what didn't grab the viewer during the theatrical run of the film. EVENT HORIZON has all of the hallmarks of a great horror movie and the cool factor of a science fiction thriller. Granted, when your leading actors are a pre-MATRIX Fishburne and the guy from JURASSIC PARK, you aren't exactly selling the cool factor to the average movie-goer. Plus, the R rating likely kept the teenagers who would have otherwise flocked to the film. We can ponder all of the reasons why it failed, but I do not believe it is as a result of the movie itself.
EVENT HORIZON is a gory film, but not as much as you would think. Yes, there are disturbing images that flash on the screen, but the movie is not simply a collection of sharp musical cues designed to make you jump at the right time. Yes, it does have those moments, but it also is a well crafted tale that calls into question what is real and what is insanity. I still wonder at the end of the movie if what we witnessed was what really happened. Did the crew die at the hands of a crewmember who went crazy or did something supernatural overtake them? The good movies are the ones that keep you guessing and EVENT HORIZON will stick with you long after the credits roll.
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