So, let’s be honest right out of the gate: Paul W.S. Anderson is not known for making great movies. He is, absolutely, known for making fun movies. The Resident Evil flicks are pure popcorn entertainment, which is the kind that he excels at as a director. Because of that, I think people tend to forget that Anderson can make a good feature when he really wants to. Shopping was an impressive debut that still stands out among everything else in his filmography. Mortal Kombat might be purely campy martial arts fun, but I honestly think it is still the best big screen video game adaptation ever made.
And then there’s Event Horizon. At the time, it was one of Anderson’s least successful movies. It’s still considered to be a bit of a flop. But it might also be his purest effort as a filmmaker. It feels like the only time he had a personal, clearly defined artistic vision. Had it been a huge success, I can only imagine what it could have led to. It would be amazing if Anderson had gone on to make more features in the vein of Event Horizon instead of simply anchoring himself to the Resident Evil franchise.
But at the same time, this movie clearly wasn’t designed to be a blockbuster. It was not made with the intention of being a huge hit, I don’t think. I’m sure they would have liked to make all the money they could, but that’s still ultimately one of my favorite things about it. Anderson has become such a four-quadrent director that I love going back to a time when he put together something like this and said “You know what, it’s not for everyone.” It’s tough for a director working with a studio budget to admit that, but all of the best ones do.
Still, Event Horizon has clear influences and wears them on its sleeve. This is basically Hellraiser meets Jacob’s Ladder against the backdrop of Alien. Of those, Alien is the most interesting connection, and not just because Anderson has cited it as his favorite film. I think it’s an important connection because, while there have been great sci-fi/horror hybrids since its release in 1979, I honestly think that Event Horizon is the purest space horror we’ve had since Alien.
Part of the reason for that is that most things that have attempted to use that setting since have taken Aliens as their inspiration, not the original. Even horror franchises entries like Hellraiser: Bloodline, Leprechaun 4 and Jason X, those space sequences were specifically designed as Hellraiser/Leprechaun/Friday the 13th meets Aliens. And that’s fine, that can be really cool, but it goes for a completely different tone.
Event Horizon is focused on being as much as horror movie as it is science fiction. Actually, just like Alien, its focus is more on horror. This film is designed to scare the hell out of its audience and it does that. I think it bombed for reasons similar to why The Thing bombed in 1982. In that era, people were used to extraterrestrial encounters like E.T. Things that were sweet and emotional, not grotesque and mildly nihilistic. And when Event Horizon came out, space-faring adventures were blockbusters like Armageddon. They were big, dumb fun and Anderson was already a director known for big, dumb fun. That was what people expected and it was not what they got.
The best thing about Event Horizon is that while it is science fiction, it’s also overtly supernatural. Alien gets a lot of praise for feeling like a haunted house movie set in space, but that’s actually what Event Horizon is. It perfectly mixes being its sci-fi and supernatural elements and I’m a big fan of that combination in general. They’re things that simply shouldn’t exist together, so I love when features manage to combine them in interesting ways, and that’s exactly what this one does.
It’s also an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink kind of horror. There are so many unique visuals, so much imagery that’s taking the most striking images from Hellraiser and Jacob’s Ladder, then retooling them and pushing them even further. And he’s just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. That’s always been Anderson’s approach, but luckily the majority of it sticks.
When you break it down, the story can get kind of convoluted, but Event Horizon feels almost like an Italian horror film in that it’s more about the visual experience. It’s about the feeling of dread and occasional revulsion you get throughout its running time. In that respect, it’s kind of The Beyond in space. And that’s not a bad thing. Plus, it’s got a great cast. Sam Neill has got to be one of the most underrated actors of all time, and Laurence Fishburne’s always great.
Event Horizon might be a deep space exploration movie, but it never once loses its focus, which is purely and simply to scare the shit out of you. It does that. And it’s the film to most authentically do that since the release of Alien.
This is the sort of movie I wish Anderson would do more of, but even if that never happens, it warrents revisiting. Because I don’t think enough people have quite come around to Event Horizon, but it warrants rediscovery. I think many new viewers will be pleasantly surprised.
Or it could just creep them out. And that would be even better.