In the Alien and Predator-dominated sci-fi horror genre, Event Horizon is a real oddity. Critics dismissed it as a loud, grisly waste of time upon its original release, but it has gained such a massive cult following over time (even being featured in the “Ahead of Their Time” section of Rotten Tomatoes’ “Rotten Movies We Love” book) that I had to check it out on Netflix. And make no mistake: the film is still a deeply flawed one. However, it is still far more interesting and, yes, unique than all those negative reviews may have you think. Just trust me on this one.
In the year 2040, the titular spaceship was sent out on a maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri, but mysteriously vanished around Neptune. Seven years later, a rescue vessel by the name of Lewis & Clark—helmed by the intuitive Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill)—is dispatched to find it and rescue those onboard. Of course, things aren’t going to go that way, but what the Clark’s passengers discover on the Event Horizon aren’t evil little green men hellbent on killing them, but the fact that the ship itself is now possessed as a result of—well, I’m not about to reveal that here.
Anyway, until the ludicrous finale, the only real danger here is the ship gaslighting and/or killing these unlucky explorers by giving them a wide variety of disturbing hallucinations. This could have been just plain silly in other hands, but the film approaches this subject matter with upmost seriousness… which actually kind of works for a bit. It would work so much better, though, if it wasn’t smothered in so much clunky dialogue, predictable jump scares, annoying genre clichés, inexplicable music choices (this is literally what plays over the end credits), and extreme gore.
Ironically, this gore—most prominently featured in aforementioned hallucinations—is what Event Horizon has become the most (in)famous for, not just because of the horror we see on screen, but also the horror that wound up not even making it there in the first place. The 130-minute rough cut had test audiences nearly fainting in their seats, so Paramount cut the film down to a mere 96, much to the disapproval of director Paul W.S. Anderson (yes, the same Paul W.S. Anderson who directed Mortal Kombat and most of the Resident Evil films; surprisingly enough, he’s actually pretty decent here).
The remaining carnage—mostly in the form of momentary flashes—is occasionally jolting, but mostly comes off as cheap shock value. Maybe a cheap exploitation film disguised as a sci-fi thriller is what Anderson had in mind, but it just doesn’t work as well as it may sound. For instance, after hearing a chilling audio clip earlier in the film, we already know that things didn’t turn out well for the Horizon’s original crew, so when that ridiculous (and heavily truncated) found-footage video pops up later, it feels a lot more forced than anything.
In fact, the most shocking thing about Event Horizon isn’t its gut-splattering violence, but just how semi-decent it is overall. The story, despite getting really stupid at the end, is fairly interesting, the atmosphere is semi-effective for the most part, the set designs are pretty eye-catching, and the pacing is so fast that things never get boring.
What the film should really be remembered for, however, is its ambition. In an era where little to no passion is put into many mainstream films, it’s genuinely heartwarming to see one that at least tries to be daring and unusual (and yes, I know that the basic premise was lifted right from 1972’s Solaris, but still), even if it does fail at actually being a good movie. Maybe it will become a great go-to “guilty pleasure” film for me later, but as for now, as a cheap, brutal B-horror version of Star Trek, it’s not bad.