Sunday, October 16, 2011

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #5: Event Horizon

The horror movie in space is a dodgy concept. Occasionally, a movie comes along that gets it right. That movie is called ‘Alien’. The rest of the time we get things like ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’ and ‘Jason X’.

Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Event Horizon’ falls between two stools. It’s a quantum leap from the abject pieces of dross epitomized by Pinhead-beyond-the-stars and Jayce-in-space. But it’s still a good few parsecs away from presenting any real competition to Ridley Scott’s classic.

Ironically, the main flaw is also its biggest plus point in terms of it being a guilty pleasure. ‘Event Horizon’ is derivative. Hugely. And not in a “hmmm, I reckon we can sneak this through without anyone noticing” kind of way. ‘Event Horizon’ is derivative in a way that can only be described as a cross-between ‘Wacky Races’ and ‘Supermarket Sweep’ populated by plagiarists. “Mwuhahahahah! I am going to steal this and this and this and this!”

The film starts with the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Morse Clarke going into suspended animation prior to a little jaunt out to the far side of Neptune. They’re joined by the standoffish Dr Weir (Sam Neill), a man who is troubled by visions of the wife he lost to suicide. Before you can say ‘Solaris’, they’re at Neptune and Dr Weir is briefing them. Eight years previously, an ftl ship he designed (the eponymous Event Horizon) disappeared, with the loss of its full crew. Now it’s reappeared. The Lewis and Clarke’s captain, Miller (Laurence Fishburne) isn’t too happy about this, the Event Horizon having something of a reputation as a ghost ship, and neither are his crew.

Quick pause to meet the shreddies crewmembers. We’ve got medical technician Peters (Kathleen Quinlan), chief medical officer D.J. (Jason Isaacs), the feisty Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson), and disposable grunt types Smith (Sean Pertwee) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones). Smith is notable for scowling a lot and saying “faakin’ ’ell“ in an East End brogue that suggests he fancied his chances in a Guy Ritchie production but turned up at the wrong audition.

Anyway, no sooner do the Lewis and Clarke group instigate docking procedures with the Event Horizon than Weir is seeing manifestations of his dead wife while Peters is being haunted by glimpses of her son. This particular lad is given to popping up in the background, a dwarf-like figure in a hooded coat, finally luring Peters into a nasty encounter. Before you can say ‘Don’t Look Now’, our heroes turn up some footage that indicates the previous crew, isolated and lost, died in spectacularly gory fashion. And before you can say ‘The Thing’, it becomes apparent that the Event Horizon itself is a malignant entity, possessing those who roam its endless corridors. And before you can say ‘The Shining’, one of the characters has gone bonkers in the worst possible way – lacerations all over his face, mind polluted with sybaritic evil and babbling about the wonderful and terrible things he has seen. And before you can say ‘Hellraiser’ … well, you get the picture.

‘Event Horizon’ doesn’t have a single original idea in its airlock. Even the set-design puts you in mind of other films: the needle-like mid-section of the Event Horizon has a very ‘2001’ vibe, while the interior of the Lewis and Clarke, bizarrely, put me in mind of ‘Red Dwarf’. What ‘Event Horizon’ does have going for it is a decent build-up to the horrors the demon ship launches on its unwary interlopers, a pacy second half, a cast who bring some quality to the proceedings and – best of all – a well-realized concept of the titular ship. Corridors are the shape of eyes, guardrails and steel-mesh walkways crisscross the superstructure like a skeleton, and the ftl device rumbling darkly at the core of the ship has a retro-industrial look, something that could conceivably have been forged in one of Blake’s “dark Satanic mills”.

Style over substance, then, but I’m not going to complain when it’s as darkly stylish as this (a shot, very near the start, where the camera slowly glides out through a portal and threads its way through the architecture of a space station which recedes to a speck as it drifts into the depths of space, is enough to make you stand up and applaud), or when the 18-rating gleefully justifies itself in the full-blooded finale.


BRENT said...

I actually liked this a hell of a lot!! Saw it on the big screen and it scared the shit out of me!! I like Sam Neil because he finally played a baddie in a career of playing the good guy role.
I've never really noticed the critisims you point out. I suppose we all have movies we like whether flawed or not. I've always liked this and never fail to watch it when it plays here on telly. It always unsettles me as it is one of the better horror in space movies....posibly because it doesn't have the cliched alien??!

Bryce Wilson said...

You Paul WS Anderson's interest in "horror" does bring an interesting theory to bear in regards to his Three Musketeer's adaption.

Perhaps he's just trying to get Dumas to rise from his grave in outrage?

Franco Macabro said...

Totally agree on it being similar to 2001 and Hellraiser, thats exactly how I described it as well, but also, I'd say it has a little bit of Disney's The Black Hole in it, especially when it comes to the gigantic spaceship with the lonely hallways...

This is Andersons best film to date, he still hasnt managed to make anything better than this one.

By the way, so much gore was edited out of this film, the dvd is very enlightning when it comes to what was left out, apparently, the film was even more of a gorefest. As it is, we only see glimmers of the gore that could have been.

Still, the film that did manage to get made turned out great in my book, they had so much cool stuff done for this film that even with the edited scenes the film turned out great.

Unknown said...

I would agree that this is Anderson's best film to date and I also found it pretty scary and very atmospheric. He really makes the most of out of environment and bouncing these very different characters off each other. One can almost see its influence on the last third of SUNSHINE only Anderson did it better, IMO. I EVENT HORIZON to be a surprisingly effective horror film.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Agreed: for all that it's derivative, it's Anderson's best movie by a mile. I'm totally with J.D. as regards 'Sunshine', a movie I loved during it's first half and then thought, Hmmm, so Boyle's just doing 'Event Horizon' only 'Event Horizon' was a lot more honest about what it was and therefore did it better.