Well, I’m still in the mood for watching horror films. So, I thought that I’d take another look at a sci-fi horror film from 1997 called “Event Horizon” that I’ve been meaning to re-watch for absolutely ages.
This was another film that I first encountered on late-night television during my mid-teens. Being a fan of the “Alien” films, I was eager to see another gritty sci-fi horror movie and foolishly didn’t think that “Event Horizon” would be very scary. Oh, how incredibly naive I was!
Still, like all genuinely scary horror movies, “Event Horizon” lingered in my memory for many years afterwards. And, eventually, fear turned into morbid curiosity. So, when I was browsing a charity shop in Petersfield back in 2018, I was delighted to notice a DVD copy of it on the shelves 🙂 But, because I was going through a major “reading novels instead of watching films” phase at the time, it languished on my “to watch” pile until shortly before I wrote this review.
So, let’s take a look at “Event Horizon”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. This film is at it’s scariest when you don’t know what to expect. So, if you want to avoid spoilers, then the short version of this review is that this film is a very good sci-fi horror movie that you should watch… if you are fearless enough.
This film also contains FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, although I don’t know whether they are intense or fast enough to be an issue or not.
The film begins with a brief text segment that explains how space travel has progressed in the 21st century (apparently, we’re supposed to have a moon base by 2015!) before explaining that, in 2040, the research vessel Event Horizon was launched with the mission of exploring beyond the boundaries of the solar system but was lost somewhere around Neptune. It is considered to be the worst space disaster in human history.
Seven years later, a scientist called Weir (Sam Neill) has a nightmare about a corpse floating inside an abandoned spaceship. He wakes up on board a space station hovering above Earth, just in time to hear a tannoy message telling him that the U.S.A.C rescue vessel Lewis & Clark is ready to depart. He boards the ship and has a rather brief meeting with the crew before getting into a protective stasis pod for the high-speed journey ahead.
Fifty-six days later, the ship arrives at it’s destination. Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) calls a crew meeting to ask Weir what is going on. After all, Miller and his crew were supposed to be on leave when they got a call about this mysterious classified rescue mission.
Weir explains that the Event Horizon was actually a highly-advanced experimental vessel. It was performing tests on a wormhole-based device that he’d designed in order to allow faster-than-light travel between two points in space. But, when the ship entered the wormhole at one end of the route, it didn’t emerge on the other end.
Now, seven years later, it has mysteriously reappeared near Neptune. And Weir wants answers…
One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, once again, it was scarier than I’d expected it to be. Imagine a mixture of “Silent Hill”, “Sphere” and “Hellraiser”, with strong hints of “Alien” and H.P.Lovecraft, and this should give you some vague idea of what to expect. This is the kind of film that seems like a fun “Aliens”-style military sci-fi thriller at first and then gradually becomes much bleaker and more horrific as it progresses.
So, I should probably start by talking about the film’s horror elements. Although this film is at it’s most terrifying when you see it for the very first time and don’t know what to expect, it can still evoke a genuinely disturbing mixture of nerve-wracking suspense and bleak cosmic horror upon repeat viewings. And, as you’d expect from any good horror story, this film contains a plethora of different types of horror.
The most prominent types of horror here are psychological horror and cosmic horror. The main characters find themselves trapped in a claustrophobic abandoned spaceship that re-plays their worst memories and contains the grisly evidence of a trip to a hell dimension of some kind or another. A hell dimension that seems to be slowly seeping into our world. All of this is handled really expertly, with the film showing the viewer enough to make them realise that the main characters are in serious danger, but leaving enough to the viewer’s imagination to preserve a chilling feeling of mystery.
In addition to several quick cutaway shots that mimic sudden intrusive thoughts and various scenes which show the psychological effects of the film’s events on some characters, this film’s extremely unsettling, tense and bleak atmosphere is also helped by the fact that everything is on a timer because the ship’s CO2 filters have a limited lifespan. Initially, the twenty-hour time limit makes “Event Horizon” seem more like a suspenseful thriller movie but, as the film progresses, this gradually becomes more of a ticking death-clock that further enhances the chilling atmosphere of nihilistic bleakness.
Plus, not only does this film contain some brilliantly nightmarish gore effects that wouldn’t be out of place in a Clive Barker novel or a Cradle Of Filth music video, these effects are often made even more shocking via the clever technique of showing you something really horrific… but leaving the extremely horrific details of it to your imagination. Given everything the film shows you, what it doesn’t show you is probably ten times more horrifying.
Yes, this is apparently the result of self-censorship on the part of the studio. But, unusually for studio meddling, the reduced gore actually improves the film. By keeping the gore effects shocking but relatively brief, they become a disturbing extension of the film’s psychological horror elements – rather than cartoonish “gore for the sake of gore”. This is how to make a gory horror film actually scary!
The film’s sci-fi elements also complement the film’s horror elements absolutely perfectly. In the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, this is a film about humanity meddling with things that they should not meddle with. It is a film that is as much, or more, about what we don’t know about the universe as it is about technological accomplishment. It is a film about scientific hubris gone horribly awry. And, although we never actually see an alien creature in the film, it is very strongly implied that some kind of malevolent extraterrestrial intelligence from the hell dimension has taken over the ship. This is Lovecraftian “cosmic horror” at it’s finest!
In addition to a really clever scientific premise, the film also takes very heavy technological and stylistic inspiration from the “Alien” films. Not only do all of the spaceships have that wonderfully gloomy and grungy 1970s-90s “used future” look to them, but the main characters also quite literally have to spend long space journeys in stasis too. The film’s technology feels futuristic enough to be fascinating, yet most of it is still grounded enough in reality to immerse the viewer in the story.
I can’t talk about this film’s horror elements without talking about the absolutely stellar set design and lighting too. Although I’ve mentioned that many of the locations have a realistic gloomy and grungy “used future” appearance, this film isn’t afraid to be even more creative with the set designs when it wants to scare the viewer. Expect to see random things covered in ominous spikes, a spinning corridor that looks like a meat grinder of some kind and other creatively creepy things like this.
Likewise, the film’s lighting really adds to the atmosphere. In addition to the wonderfully gloomy chiaroscuro lighting that turns up in a lot of 1990s films, this film also takes a little bit of inspiration from Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic “Suspiria” when it comes to the lighting design 🙂 Although this is done in a slightly more subtle way than in “Suspiria”, this film occasionally uses an “unrealistic” palette of red, blue and/or green lighting to add a hint of nightmarish surrealism to the events of the film.
As for the characters and acting, they’re really good. Although you shouldn’t expect novel-quality characterisation here (again, studio meddling), we get enough glimpses of several characters’ backstories to make us care about them. Not to mention that all of the characters also seem like fairly realistic people too.
Likewise, in the best sci-fi horror tradition, all of the characters also seem like suitably intelligent and competent people too. Not only does this allow for a lot of conflict between Weir’s coldly scientific and sceptical demeanour and the more practical survival instincts and technical/military knowledge of the rescue crew, but Miller is one of the best “captain” characters that I’ve seen for a while and I cannot praise Laurence Fishburne highly enough here 🙂 Miller is gruff and confident enough to really project an understated feeling of experience and authority, whilst also being emotional enough to really come across as a realistic character.
The film’s special effects also hold up really well too. Although there are a few brief moments of “old CGI” (eg: objects floating in zero gravity, a rippling water-like surface etc…), the film’s effects are mostly practical and are also helped out a lot by the gloomy lighting too. Plus, this is the kind of film that tells a compelling enough story that you probably won’t be paying too much attention to the technical details of the special effects.
All in all, this is an excellent sci-fi horror film 🙂 Not only will it scare you more than you might expect, but it does all of this in a really clever way. If you want an example of sci-fi horror at it’s scariest, then this film is certainly worth taking a look at. It’s kind of like a mixture of “Silent Hill”, “Hellraiser”, “Alien” and H. P. Lovecraft 🙂 Yes, there is apparently a “lost” longer version of the film but, taken on it’s own merits, this film is still a sci-fi horror classic.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get five.