Event Horizon (1997)

*. A lot of movies have scripts that are stupid. This is certainly the case with Event Horizon, but I would characterize its sort of stupidity more precisely. It is juvenile. It has the feel of a script written by a twelve-year-old. It posits a black hole opening a doorway to hell in the skies above Neptune, but hell is just an orgy of gothic sadism while advanced physics gets explained using language borrowed from A Wrinkle in Time. Nevertheless, it is all presented as being very serious stuff, as evidenced by lines like “A black hole. The most destructive force in the universe. And you’ve created one?” or “You break all the laws of physics and you seriously think there wouldn’t be a price?”
*. That said, what charm Event Horizon has comes from this same silliness. You can’t take it seriously for a second, at least after one of the crewmen of the rescue vessel turns out to know what is, I am told, incorrect Latin (a language that apparently nobody on Earth had been able to figure out).
*. But like I say, this silliness is charming. Take as another example the fact that the ghost ship Event Horizon isn’t actually in orbit over Neptune but is somehow stationary in its atmosphere. This, I am again told, is impossible, but it allows for the fact that the film’s action takes place on a dark and stormy night with lots of thunder and lightning outside. That thunder and lightning, in turn, ties in to the fact that director Paul Anderson wanted this to be a haunted house movie set in space, echoing everything from The Haunting to The Shining.
*. Actually, the entire movie is a vast echo chamber of other films. In addition to the two I just mentioned there’s also, of course, a lot of Alien. From the sleep pods to the banter among the burnt-out crew right down to everyone wearing the same regulation underwear. Then there’s Solaris and its alien force messing with the crew’s minds and the main character being haunted by his wife’s suicide. Or Hellraiser, with the whips-and-chains vision of hell and the gravity drive that’s like a puzzle box solving itself and summoning demons. Anderson really wanted that medieval look, to the point where he wanted the ship’s interior to look like Notre Dame cathedral and the spacesuits to seem like suits of armour.

*. There are also homages built in to individual scenes. When Peters goes looking for her lost son it plays out like the climax of Don’t Look Now. And this too was deliberate, as the commentary makes clear. Does it make much sense, given that Peters knows her son isn’t on board the ship and that she’s chasing after an illusion? Not much. But then, it’s all very silly.
*. Equally silly — meaning nonsensical but charming — are all the antique touches. Miller (Laurence Fishburne), the captain of the rescue vessel, wears a WW2-style leather jacket. The crew members smoke and drink coffee. Despite the fact that they carry around touch pads, they have pictures of sexy women cut out of magazines stuck to their quarters. This is all silly too.
*. Oh the steps we have to take to avoid showing gasp! genitals. I mean, few people wear underwear in a bath. Note also how Neill’s evil doppelganger at the end is in a full body latex suit with all his precious scars: no clothes but no genitals either (you can see this clearest in a rough cut on the documentary included with the DVD, there’s just a sort of bulge down there).
*. I don’t know if there’s any point trying to understand where it is the Event Horizon has gone or where the doorway it opens leads to. This is a type of horror that was very popular at the time, where the scary stuff all basically comes by way of psychological states or hallucinations being made real. This is also why the vision of hell we get is presented in such generic terms. These aren’t alien tortures but images drawn out of the collective human unconscious.
*. Of course, such an interpretation torpedoes the idea of the ship being somehow alive or sentient. It doesn’t even have an AI personality to be corrupted. But looking for some kind of consistency in the plot here is a fool’s errand.

*. I am sure there’s no point trying to figure out how Sam Neil gets super powers. He just does. Or what the “really strange readings” are that the rescue team pick up during their scan for life forms. Maybe they’re ghosts.
*. One thing that does make me wonder though is to what extent Dr. Weir(d) (Neill) knows what’s going on. He did design the ship after all, and he seems to be in some kind of psychic contact with it even before setting out on the mission. As with Peters chasing after her son, however, it isn’t clear why Weir is in such a rush to go to hell. Penance? Where is the lure here that draws these people to their destruction?
*. It was criticized for being too talky, but that in itself isn’t fair. I like talk. The problem is that the talk here is dumb. There are even a couple of scenes where people are asked for straight talk and when they get it they immediately ask for things to be dumbed down or for someone to speak in English.
*. A box office bomb, it’s gone on to gain a minor cult following, helped in part by being seen as a sort of ruined movie, with Anderson never permitted by the studio to bring his full (130 minute) vision to screen. I don’t buy it. This would never have been a good movie. Though it may have made more sense if given more time and money. But I doubt even that would have helped, since what I’ve heard is that most of the cuts involved getting rid of excess gore.
*. While a bad movie, I do enjoy it. It may be stupid, but it’s not dull, and I like all the gothic design elements. Like those giant spikes sticking out of the gravity drive room. The whole ship is a giant torture chamber even before they go to hell. All part of the silliness, and the fun.

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