In my inaugural entry to the Half-Remembered Movies category I’m discussing a movie that absolutely terrified me as a teenager, Event Horizon. Not normally a fan of the Horror/Thriller genre, I remember first seeing it at a sleepover, and that none of us were able to sleep the rest of the night. It was freaky, disgusting, and unlike anything else we had seen to that point. I rewatched it maybe five years ago, and I remember it holding up rather well. Today I’m looking back through foggy memory at this film and identifying the themes and aspects that have given it so much staying power.
Event Horizon built on the body-horror and supernatural elements that had been so expertly crafted in movies like Hellraiser, The Fly, The Thing, and other classics of the 1980s, where practical effects were a point of pride. Predating the gore-porn genre by several years (think of the Saw franchise, Human Centipede, and the like), it was a movie that had both physical danger and existential horror elements, which all combined in a science fiction blockbuster worthy of high praise.
The short synopsis of the movie is an exploration ship carrying a new type of propulsion drive reappeared in the outer solar system after a several-year disappearance. A salvage/rescue ship is tasked with exploration of the mysteriously-empty craft, bringing along the designer of the ship, who is both fascinated by its sudden appearance and haunted by visions of his dead wife. It turns out the ship’s former crew murdered each other in a bout of terrible depravity immediately after the experimental drive was engaged, and now the ship is possessed of an intelligent malevolence that hungers for more. Cue lots of screaming, some otherworldly horror, most of the rescue crew dying terribly, and a final jump-scare at the end for the survivor(s).
Contrary to many other horror movies, the characters in Event Horizon are smart and have a genuine survival instinct. In fact the best line of the movie (and in my opinion of most any horror movie) is uttered when the captain discovers evidence of the self-inflicted violence that befell the prior crew: “we’re leaving.” Obviously events conspire to prevent them from doing so, but the unilateral “this situation is beyond saving, let’s pack up” attitude is fantastic and sorely lacking from other such films. Seriously, watch that clip (it’s not graphic) and try not to agree with him.
Personally I found the more compelling horror aspects of the movie to be the existential/reality-twisting setpieces, not the gore and viscera. Event Horizon does a great job of showing the viewer just enough to let their imagination run wild, stopping just shy of laying everything on the table. The whole movie oozes the feeling of dread, and though there are jump-scares and shocking moments, most of the runtime is devoted to the slow – perhaps inexorable – descent from order to chaos. Because it doesn’t rely on some half-hidden monster lurking in the shadows (truly, the monster is within ourselves), the movie retains its punch even two decades after its release, whereas other horror movies of the day get watered down by advances in CGI and modern effects.
Something I have always appreciated about the movie was the design of the Event Horizon ship itself. The salvage/rescue crew looks at the spikes, dangerous pits, and other out-of-place dangers with real skepticism, but the ship’s designer doesn’t question the very ominous and oppressive atmosphere at all. Is his madness – or perhaps subconscious connection to the ship and its inhabiting entity – affecting his perceptions, or was the ship built that way in the first place? If memory serves it’s never touched on, and I think that’s a fantastic bit of world-building. The unanswered question, and largely unasked as well, is whether the ship was doomed before its inaugural journey into unknown space.
There’s a line of games (role-playing, computer, and table-top war simulation) called Warhammer 40,000, which largely concerns itself with the struggle between order and chaos in the far future. Neither side is presented in a positive light, with a brutalistic and totalitarian regime controlling every aspect of humanity in contrast to the oppression and depravity of unlimited free will. There’s a lot to be said about that game world and its evolution over the years, but I think a very strong case can be made that Event Horizon is the best WH40k movie ever made. No it doesn’t have the iconic Space Marines, orks, or explicitly talk about chaos demons, but even beyond the core themes presented, the simple plot of the movie has a ship breaking out of our reality and encountering “the other;” a very real danger in the 40K universe, and one that is touched on at length.
Would I recommend Event Horizon to modern movie-goers? I would, particularly those that enjoy suspenseful horror movies. I think the characters, the environments, and the plot hold up very well, and though some of the scenes absolutely scream “1990s dramatic tension,” it’s a fantastic romp that absolutely exudes charm, character, and imagination, and the willingness to fully explore a fantastical theme with intelligent characters. Definitely pay attention to the strong R rating however, as it’s well-deserved.