Friday, October 4, 2013
The Many Days of Horror! - Event Horizon
I've watched this movie on several occasions, each time trying to piece together exactly why it is I don't like it. Event Horizon has everything I technically could want in a movie: the tale of a haunted starship, the first FTL craft to be built, apparently on an infinite budget and designed by mad scientists (including Sam Neill) with no OSHA oversight so they can make it as spiky and dangerous as they want. The ship disappears on its maiden voyage, and years later resurfaces. A deep space rescue team led by Lawrence Fishburn is dispatched with Sam Neill to recover the ship. No one apparently worries about the distress signals being received, which sound rather ominous. Naturally the ship has some serious haunting issues, and as the crew begins to act strangely and hallucinate the gravity drive at the core of the Event Horizon begins opening to somewhere else...
So why don't I like Event Horizon? It's not really a bad film, but my wife made a comment early on in the latest viewing that Sam Neill (Dr. Weir) immediately made her think of Jurassic Park. This was during a scene in which he tries to explain to a crew of space rescue specialists the concept of a warp drive that folds space to travel. As usual the guys who work on a spaceship appear to be oblivious to the physics of space travel, as a way of giving the untrustworthy scientist a reason to explain in second grade language to the audience how this whole premise is supposed to work. As my wife pointed out, though, the scene was reminding her of Jurassic Park, when Sam Neill, in a more benevolent role, does the same thing with dinosaurs.
That was when I realized that Event Horizon is a patchwork movie, made up of a bunch of derivative elements from other films. You can find a bit of Hellraiser, Alien, Amityville Horror, Jurassic Park, and many more mixed in at different times. It's a weirdly low-key movie as well; for a story about a haunted spaceship that opens portals to hell there aren't nearly as many "hell moments" as one would like. Sam Neill does get to play a villain (who is a riff on Hellraiser's cenobytes, let's be Frank here*), so there is that. The FX are fairly decent but never quite as impressive as in other similar movies, which draws comparisons of course (but hey it still looks better than Super Nova). Like Alien its full of average Joe dudes working in space, and like Amityville Horror spooky things happen and there's a lot of blood.
The movie also suffers from what seems to be a director who doesn't really know how to film for good effect in horror. Before I say more, let me point out this movie was released in 1997. Guess who the director was. Go ahead, guess! If you read last year's 31 days of horror series you may sense a returning theme....yep, it was Paul W.S. Anderson. With that in mind, I have to give him credit: he gets better, at action films if not horror, and let's face it, he's also better as a producer (for example Pandorum), too.
I won't knock Event Horizon because I find it not-scary; and not in a "I've seen too much of this stuff" sort of way, more like a "this movie doesn't know how to set up events to surprise you, nor does it know how to make you care for these characters" sort of way, instead. I will knock it for being badly derivative and failing to creatively riff on what has come before in a way that makes it stand out as its own thing. I will blast it for somehow managing to misappropriate Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburne, both of whom can do better than this if someone is directing them properly. I can and will blast it for managing to make such a great potential story so....ordinary.
*see what I did there?