Event Horizon

(Paul W.S. Anderson, UK/USA, 1997)


Event Horizon is likely to be dismissed in some quarters as a mere knock-off of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – which indeed spawned many sequels and imitations. But director Paul Anderson (Shopping [1994], Mortal Kombat [1995]) gives the formula some new twists and flavours, beginning with the thundering, atonal techno music over the opening credits.


That clamour sets the tone of the piece. A crack team of professional space jockeys, led by Miller (Laurence Fishburne), searches space for a vessel, named the Event Horizon, missing in action. This team constitutes a veritable Rainbow Coalition of skin colours, religious beliefs, political ideologies, temperaments and musical tastes. As their guide, they have the creator of the advanced technology on the elusive craft, suspiciously fanatical scientist Weir (Sam Neill). Finally aboard the errant ship, they realise it is devoid of human life, but strangely pulsates with some mysterious alien form clearly summoned forth (from a black, black hole) by Weir’s “gravity drive”, a top-secret contraption that allows faster-than-light travel.


Once it dispenses with its preliminary, pseudo-scientific gobbledegook, Event Horizon gets down to its properly Gothic agenda. The vision of other-worldly life operative here is pure Clive Barker: beyond our puny civilisation, the cosmos hosts only “chaos and evil”! The spectre of H.P. Lovecraft, and his various mutations within contemporary pop culture, is never far away. With a nod to that other benchmark of contemporary trippy SF, the Polish novel (1961) and Russian film (1972) of Solaris, Anderson and writer Philip Eisner give their amorphous, malevolent being the power to read mortal minds, and also materialise every character’s most gruesome fears in hallucinatory flashes. Like John Carpenter’s creatures in The Thing (1982) or The Fog (1980), this beast is immaterial, ever-present – like some vapour that can penetrate and then transform every bodily border.


This is a tense, proficient and (in particular) gory movie – and I say that with some nostalgia. Gore – nitty-gritty. blood-and-guts stuff – is a neglected, underestimated part of cinema history. It began in the 1960s Z movie and underground ghettos, briefly resurfacing and flourishing in near-mainstream horror and fantasy films of the ‘80s. Subsequently, gore was reviled as the sign of “gratuitous violence” (whatever that is) in mass culture, and largely driven underground once more. Until, that is, the appearance of this handsome, stomach-churning movie.


There is much in Event Horizon that impresses. (The fact that emerged later of 35 minutes cut – and then lost forever – by Paramount before its initial hasty release was complete news to me: I didn’t get the sense, while innocently watching it in ‘97, that anything was missing.) The ensemble cast, including Joely Richardson and Sean Pertwee, clicks well. Neill, often a hammy, ill-pitched performer, is dialled down to a quiet, sinister level of menace. Moments of humour to break the horror-flow are well placed.


And, just as it is unafraid to plumb the depths of gore, the film is equally proud of its capacity to provide many rude, old-fashioned shocks: loud noises, sudden edits and murky apparitions that prime our feverish imaginations for the worst yet to come.

MORE Anderson: Alien vs. Predator

© Adrian Martin October 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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