In Defense of Event Horizon, And The Blockbuster Psycho-Drama

You know what I miss?

That period, in the nineties and the early noughties, when pop culture creators were just having full emotional breakdowns via their mediums in the mainstream for a few years there and we all seemed to love it.

You know what I’m saying? Your Silent Hills, Jacob’s Ladders, Crashes, Heavenly Creatures-es – fucked-up psychological gnarliness was, for a hot minute there, not just mainstream, but downright marketable. I’ve always had a soft spot for these woozy, twisted horrors-that-aren’t-quite-horrors-but-are-downright-horrible-anyway. I am a major proponent of just throwing your shit over an unsuspecting audience like a bucket of ice water, personally, and I long for a time when we can return to this collective catharsis of sitting down with a hot dog and a soda and being lightly emotionally terrorized (in a fun way) by the media once more.

Which brings me to perchance the most contentious of all these entries into this very specific canon: 1997’s Event Horizon. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, he of perhaps one of the most mixed back catalogues of all time, when it came out, it’s pretty safe to say that next to nobody bloody well liked the thing: contemporary reviews are mostly responsible for its current 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, writing it off as a pseudo-pretentious wannabe-deep attempt at science fiction horror with more in the way of gore than in actual weight.

Because of this, I’d avoided it till now; I was pretty young when it came out, easily terrified and decidedly not the appropriate target audience, and was warned off it for years afterwards. Add to that the fact that it starred Laurence Fishburne far too close to his descent into mediocrity exhibited in The Matrix (and undeniably averted by the time Hannibal came around), and it was never one at the top of my list.

But lockdown makes fools of us all, and, after starting an ill-advised but very entertaining Silent Hill playthrough (Silent Hill 2? Ruined my life, loved every moment of it), I found myself drawn to it once more. Buoyed on by my delicious co-editor – who was old enough to have some vague and fond-ish memories of the movie upon its original release – and the promise of Sam Neill, I finally gave it a try.

The premise is one of the most explicitly nasty of this batch of media – a spaceship is sent to find out what happened to a lost vessel, returning from a seven-year absence, only to find a strange porthole to what appears to be hell itself. Many contemporary reviews criticized the lack of satisfying explanation for exactly what happens in the hellish dimension that leaks into this movie, but I think it adds something to Event Horizon that the film doesn’t bother stopping to lay out the particulars piece-by-piece; it trusts that the story its trying to tell, and, more importantly, the arcs that it explores, are satisfactorily completed by the time the movie ends.

And let me tell you this: Event Horizon is fucking great. It’s a dark, twisty-turny psycho-drama that has enough depth to spread across a whole miniseries (which might be why Amazon Studios recently announced that they intended to adapt it as one), and a stellar cast to bring that material to life – this is a magic Larry Fishburne performance, commanding and grounded, and, matched with a wobbly, edgy Sam Neill, makes for a compelling balance between the two leads. An excellent supporting cast, including Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, and Kathleen Quinlan, manage to sell the genuinely unsettling atmosphere even with limited screentime in this short run-through, and the real effects still look genuinely brilliant (even if the CGI is comically hideous). It’s a rich idea, well-executed, and for me, that’s all you can ask for.

But I think a big part of my enjoyment of Event Horizon springs from the fact that it makes so many modern blockbusters look so bloody toothless in comparison – I have few fond things to say about the absoloute monopoly that neutered franchises (even those which I happen to enjoy) have over the cinematic landscape right now, and one of the most frustrating things about that is that experiments like Event Horizon have become few and far between, and rarely earn the status or notoriety that this movie managed to. It’s a big-studio blockbuster, with big-name stars for the time, trying something risky and edgy and really quite horrible. I would love to see more of that right now – and that’s the best thing I can say about Event Horizon.

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By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Amazon)

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