The Event Horizon was a ship designed to travel beyond the speed of light. With the ability to “fold space,” the ship would immediately travel fantastic distances by stepping out of the realm of “Einsteinian” physics. On its maiden voyage an unknown tragedy occurred. The ship vanished with the crew’s final garbled transmissions including panicked screams and fervent chanting in Latin: “Liberate . . . me . . . ex infernis.” “Deliver me from Hell.” And then, seven years later the ship reappears, floating abandoned in space.
Captain Miller, played by Laurence Fishburne helms the Lewis and Clark and leads a crew of interplanetary rescue workers to board the ship and look for survivors or evidence of survivors. Travelling with them is Dr. Weir, the designer of the Event Horizon played by Sam Neil, who is looking for some explanation of what happened to the ship in its absence. Did it really travel beyond the light speed barrier? What did it find? Were there any ghastly complications with horrifying consequences? Why, of course there were.
The Event Horizon has traveled through Hell, the darkness between the stars. Escaping the boundaries of our physical reality has also meant driving the ship through dimensions of chaos. Warping space also has meant warping minds and the crew were driven insane but what they experienced in flight and turned to vicious, demonic savagery. The curse has clung to the ship and now the newly arrived crew of the Lewis and Clark are being invaded by demons from beyond. Hungering for greater suffering, Dr. Weir prepares to shanghai them as the new crew of the damned on the Event Horizon’s next voyage.
At its heart Event Horizon is a haunted house movie set in space. Specifically in a beautifully designed ghost ship with arcane and highly-stylized detailing that blends industrial sci-fi with gothic horror. The repeated patterning of ribbed columns, angular florets, keystone archways and triptych windows conjures the look of some technological monastery. A place for the worship of inhuman, alien gods. The foolish intruders are met with their own weakness and lured into gruesome deaths that may seem to be terrible accidents at first but then escalate into bizarre mutilations that stem from deeply personal fears. Director Paul Anderson was eager to show audiences that he could make a hard-hitting horror film and with the kills, scares and hellscape set pieces of Event Horizon he realized his desires.
It is not a wholly straightforward ghost story and there are many influences from other sources that can be found in the film. The extra-dimensional horror of Hellraiser’s cenobites and the demons of the warp from the Warhammer 40K games and novels meet with the industrial craft setting of Alien and scares lifted from The Shining. But films, games, television and novels that came after can also owe some of their influence to this film. Don’t we see a little bit of it in Doctor Who’s The Impossible Planet? Or Pandorum? The starship-gothic style has been reused and was the foundation for the art direction and design of the Dead Space series of horror video games.
So what is the reason that this film is so reviled? I have seen it appear time and again on people’s “hate” lists and one friend of mine swore off Laurence Fishburne entirely after seeing it. Was it the surprisingly gory imagery that burst out in the middle of a sci-fi movie? Was it the sometimes odd music caught between the brooding post modern orchestra of Michael Kamen and the throbbing bass of Orbital? Was it just the elements that others could label as “derivative” that drove them away from it? Event Horizon has always been one thing for me; the intersection of my childhood sci-fi nerd with my adulthood horror film geek. It’s the perfect storm, referencing elements from all over my own past and present to draw them into a shocking and gorgeous picture of genre blending sci-fi and horror.