Retro Rewatch: Event Horizon – 1997


Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, I give you Paul W.S. Anderson’s greatest work with “Event Horizon”. 

Now saying that this is the best movie that ever came from Paul W.S. Anderson, isn’t really saying a whole lot.  The man has been responsible for Mortal Kombat (95), Soldier (98), Resident Evil (02), Alien vs. Predator (04), and Death Race (08).  Even though these aren’t the most stunning achievements in film history, there is absolutely no argument that they are at their very least entertaining adrenaline fueled thrill rides.  With all these straight up auctioneers, Event Horizon has always seemed to be the odd man out on Paul W.S Anderson’s resume.  On the surface, it seems just like another version of Alien with hardened space vets that will inevitably run into some kind of terrible force.  This is essentially what does happen, but there is much more going on in this movie besides evil events taking out a rescue team.

In Event Horizon a deep space salvage team run by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) are all awakened from their hyper-sleep as they near their destination somewhere outside of Neptune.  Aside from the normal crew, an engineer named Dr. William Weir (Sam Neil) in also on board for this mission.  Soon after that, we find that the reason for Dr. Weir’s presence is to check out a responding ship called The Event Horizon which vanished seven years prior.  The ship was designed to bend time and space essentially making a trip from one end of the universe to the other instantaneous by essentially creating black holes on the starting location and the finish line and passing through them.  Turns out instead of going deep into space as explorers, they end up in hell.

When the rescue squad boards the Event Horizon, they quickly find mutilated remains of the previous crew whereas some of their wounds appear to be self inflicted.  The rescue team soon becomes frightened and tortured by the memories of their past manifesting themselves into some kind of demonstrative physical being.  Aside from just scaring the hell out of you, one of the most prominent themes that is constant throughout the entire film is the idea that the past is going to “come back to haunt you”. 

Everyone on the crew of this small salvage team experiences something on the ship that either completely terrifies them, forces them into a trance, or makes them do something that will ultimately lead to their death.  Captain Miller for example gets brief glimpses of a man on fire that had died a long time prior. On another ship, Miller had to close an airlock on one of his men while watching the fire burn him alive.  This in and of itself is enough to cause a psychological disorder, but then again that is why Captain Miller is in charge of the ship.  He understands and utilized the idea that sometimes in the line of duty you have to make difficult decisions that will inevitably lead to some people dying. 

Captain Miller had always felt bad about leaving another man to die, but he never questioned his decision.  He knew what had to be done and he did it.  However as things start to unravel on the ship as the universal evil starts picking off the crew one by one, Miller is not fooled by any tricks.  The Burning man shows up several times in the movie but during the climax Captain Miller confronts him saying that it isn’t really him and he isn’t really there.  I won’t ruin the end for you in case you haven’t seen it, but regardless, the point is made when looking at how Captain Miller and the other crew members treat their past digressions.        

Captain Miller understands what he had done in the past and he has learned from his actions.  It wasn’t a mistake per se to kill one man to save many, but in hind sight Miller believes that the situation could have been avoided.  Another one of the crew members named Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) sees her child running around the Event Horizon and decides to follow him.  She is overcome by what she thinks she sees.  Peters doesn’t put her son (son->previous life->history) into any kind of logical context.    She doesn’t piece together a logical conclusion that this spaceship that has been gone for 7 years and is now floating around Neptune, which is nowhere near where her son would be.  But Peters doesn’t want to acknowledge that, she wants to ignore all that silly and robust logic and follow what her heart tells her despite the fact that it more closely resembles a tirade at a Hitler Youth meeting rather than a man of science explaining how fast light travels.  Miller and Peters both decide to treat the knowledge of their past differently but the outcome isn’t exactly what you think it would be.

In Event Horizon, the past comes back in the form of a hell dimension infested ship to torture the crew members to death either by actually killing them or by tricking them into killing themselves.  This hell dimension that is now physically part of the ship is the embodiment of everything that happened before.  It’s the memories and physical actions that have tormented you, it’s the nightmares that you can’t get rid of, and it’s the fear you have of retribution or consequence.  In the end neither Miller or Peters end up particularly well but maybe that’s fates way of saying that these choices you made in the past, don’t really matter what happens to you in the end.  Maybe the end is just the conclusion of life, not a judged transcendental inquest.  Doesn’t really matter to me as long as I don’t end my life in a bloody orgy while getting tortured and stabbed.  Oh well, live by the sword, die by the sword.

Is it a cult classic, a fitting analysis, or complete forgettable?:  This is surprisingly a fitting analysis.  Characters were filled out and motivated, the evil was absolute, and the story was genuinely creepy.  It also had a ton of subtext that can’t easily be ignored. 

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