Seven years ago, the starship Event Horizon vanished after attempting humanity’s first hyperspace travel. Now it’s reappeared outside of Neptune, emitting a distress beacon. Laurence Fishburne captains the rescue ship dispatched to investigate. Onboard is the Event Horizon’s designer, played by Sam Neill. Upon rendezvousing with the Horizon, the rescuers discover the remains of a violent massacre and evidence the ship may be sentient.
It’s The Shining meets Hellraiser in space. Crew members hallucinate their worst nightmares. There’s an homage to the classic elevator of blood. The ship’s core resembles a spherical version of Hellraiser’s puzzle box, and the bladed entry corridor could double as one of Pinhead’s torture chambers. The finale sees Sam Neill made up like a Cenobite going full Jack Torrance.
I liked the amalgam, but the incoherent story lacks resonance. In The Shining, the hotel wants Danny because of his psychic gifts. In Event Horizon, the ship wants to return to another dimension because…? In The Shining, the hotel possesses Danny’s father because it needs agency. In Event Horizon, the ship proves capable of teleporting humans, so why does it need Sam Neill’s character?
Indulge me for a small digression on haunted houses. They don’t scare me. I regard them as ghost cells, containing the danger. Don’t go in the house, the ghosts can’t get you. Walking down a major city street, you don’t sweat the lions in the local zoo. Why not? Because they’re contained. The lion habitat is like a haunted house. Stay outside and you’re fine. With The Shining, director Stanley Kubrick recognized this limitation and added a hook. At the end, we see an old photo of the hotel staff and Danny’s father stands smiling among them. This implies a sense of inevitability. The family was doomed from the start. That’s why, where other haunted house movies fall short, The Shining works for me. Event Horizon needed something like this. A gut-punch twist that reframes the narrative stakes. Without it, it’s a movie about a lion cage at the edge of our solar system.
This may sound like I didn’t enjoy the film. I did, but I found it frustrating. It’s so close to great. But as the finale unfolds, instead of raising the stakes and existential dread, it reverts to slasher tropes with characters walking up the proverbial steps instead of out the door. Nothing another script pass couldn’t fix.
The cast shines, though when Fishburne asks, “Are you saying this ship is alive?” his incredulity appears directed toward the dialogue itself. Neill steals the show with his monstrous third act performance that provides the film’s most resonant moments. The scene where he grabs Fishburne’s head and forces a glimpse of the future while bellowing “Do you see?!” epitomizes the film’s unrealized potential.
Do you see? Indeed.
After two years of pandemic avoidance, I returned to the cinema. The Prince Charles welcomed me back with a red carpet.
Okay, so it was for a premier later that evening, but still…
The movie played better a second time. The piercing volume and larger screen made for more immersive atmosphere, while the 35mm projection better masked the optical effects.
It’s still frustrating how close it comes to greatness, but it proves a solid B-Movie. Fishburn’s expository dialogue still sounds tin eared and Neill’s performance still shines.