Paul W.S. Anderson is not a director known for producing artistic films and this is no exception, but what he does deliver in Event Horizon is one of the most original and terrifying horror movies of the 1990s. Starring Laurence Fishburne as Captain Miller, Sam Neill as Dr. William Weir, Kathleen Quinlan as Peters, Joely Richardson as Lt. Starck, Richard T. Jones as Cooper, Jack Noseworthy as young Justin and Jason Isaacs as DJ who are all on-board a ship at some point in the future whose purpose is search and rescue.
With little notice, the crew is given notice that they must assemble and depart to distant part of the solar system for a classified mission and that they will be briefed upon arrival by Dr. Weir. Weir explains that a ship called the Event Horizon, which disappeared seven years ago during an experiment with its gravitational drive system, was not lost as virtually everyone in the world believed. Upon activation of the drive, which is said to fold space-time until they exist in a single-point and then travel instantaneously from any point in the universe to any other. Weir knows all of this because he was designer of the ship and its drive and fervently believes it must be salvaged. Its sudden reappearance is shocking to the crew and their mission is to determine where it’s been and what happened to the original crew.
Questions of religion and the possible existence of alternative dimensions begins circulating as the crew begin to hallucinate what can only be their worst nightmares and memories, but unlike hallucinations, there is feeling: heat, cold, etc. Something is very wrong.
When Justin, the young engineer arrives in engineering to begin studying the drive it stops its rotation and forms what appears to be a very sticky liquid, which Justin toys with until he finds himself unable to escape and is sucked the surface. The crew go to rescue him and “gravitational waves” are emitted from the drive, damaging the rescue vessel and leaving Justin in a coma.
Captain Miller orders the engineering spaces off-limits and begins trying to do whatever he can to keep his crew alive long enough for his ship’s remaining engineer to patch the damage to his ship and return to Earth. Weir insists the drive is safe and that this is unnecessary and it is then that we see the rotating drive reflected in his eyes and his character begins to change from one of earnest goodwill to one of malevolence in defense of the ship.
Weir begins to believe that the ship has traveled farther through the known universe and dimensionality as we know it to know what it’s seen or what it’s been to, though they once they recover the video logs of the ship which show the crew torturing each other and mutilating themselves in an orgy of horror, they begin to believe that the ship has been to someplace very similar to hell and, not only that, but that the ship has brought back a presence with it which is responsible for all the activities which have occurred.
The climax is thrilling as good very literally battles evil in Dr. Weir’s obsession to bring the ship and this new crew back to the hellish dimension where the ship picked up this intelligence, and Captain Miller’s insistence that his crew survive no matter the consequences.
Though Event Horizon was panned by critics, it contains incredibly cutting-edged special effects, a very original concept, horrific visuals, and much more than that, a dark undercurrent of psychological horror reminiscent of many of the true horror movies like The Shining rather than the strict slash-and-gore movies like Friday the Thirteenth.
While Neill’s work is decent in the movie and the rest of the cast is a bit mediocre, Fishburne shines through with a fantastic performance, especially when one considers the cast and premise with which he was presented. It is easily believable that this performance is, in large part, the very reason he was later cast as Morpheus in the legendary Matrix trilogy of films; and like The Matrix the film is filled with religious imagery and thematic elements. The very shape of the ship is modeled on the Notre Dame Cathedral.
This is a movie with very deep religious undercurrents and seems to mix the predictability of science and engineering and the unpredictability, but believeability of religion and then add in the ultimate horror of hell for a truly horrifically terrifying movie in the horror genre.