Event Horizon 4K UHD Review: Atmospheric Space Chiller

At first glance, Event Horizon looks like a rip-off of Alien. A crew in space, far from any aid, investigating a derelict craft. Strange things happen, and then suddenly the crew is fighting for their life against a menace from beyond the stars. Of course, once the fullness of events plays out, it’s clear Event Horizon isn’t ripping off Alien at all. It’s ripping off Doom.

Or riffing off Doom, since Event Horizon, despite trappings that were familiar even by the late ’90s, doesn’t strictly follow any space horror movie form. It has more up its sleeve than just jump scares and being a haunted house in space (though it is that as well.)

The haunted house in question is the Event Horizon. It’s a ghost ship, a famous space disaster. But what isn’t so well known is that it was an experiment in travelling faster than light. The ship’s designer, Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), needs to get on board to find out why it disappeared seven years before, and why it’s come back now. The FTL drive worked by moving the ship into another dimension. It just might be that that dimension was somewhere near Hell.

The ship that gets this unwelcome assignment is the Lewis & Clark. Its captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and crew don’t want to go on a ghost hunt. But they’re professionals, and they take the doctor where he needs to go. Disaster strikes once they arrive. Lewis & Clark‘s hull is breached which forces the crew to take shelter on the Event Horizon. There, the physical danger of running out of oxygen begins to pale next to the psychological terrors the ship has in store for them.

How the story plays out isn’t unfamiliar to horror fans. Small, strange things begin to happen; people begin acting weird. People start seeing things. Someone gets badly hurt. Things get worse.

The crew who these things are happening too are briefly but sharply drawn. Every one of the crew has some issue with the doctor, who is seemingly less concerned with physical safety than uncovering the mystery of the Event Horizon. Eventually, they find a video log of the ship’s crew, engaged in debauchery both sexual and violent. This was a sequence that is extremely brief in the film but was apparently the subject of massive editing by worried executives.

Much of the latter half of Event Horizon seems to have been the product of haste and executive worrying rather than creative decision making. I’m not an enormous fan of director Paul Anderson (who, after a rocky late ’90s found a lucrative career making those goofy Resident Evil movies) but the first 45 minutes of Event Horizon is some of his most assured filmmaking. It’s well paced, moving without sacrificing atmosphere and developing characters without having to ever pause and spell itself out.

The latter half of the film (which is a brisk 96 minutes long) make several leaps of logic. Characters figure out things about the ship that aren’t borne out in what we’ve seen happen to them. It feels like every character was missing their own scene of trauma at the hands of the Event Horizon. What could be a string of bad luck is chocked up to supernatural intervention just a little too quickly to feel entirely plausible.

But that’s a shortcoming, not a disaster. For most of its run, Event Horizon is tense, atmospheric and claustrophobic. Being a scary movie in space means the most obvious touchstone is Alien. But what Event Horizon borrows most intelligently from that film is the feeling that its characters are real people. They have real conflicts and connections but the story isn’t larded with irritating bickering that so many screenwriters seem to think are the hallmark of character interaction.

Event Horizon was made in 1997, and so much of the CGI is rather dodgy. The practical effects and sets are much more interesting and convincing. The 4K release is as good looking as this film has been on home video, but Event Horizon is a dark, rather murky film by design. As good as this release’s representation of the film’s content is, it’s not 4K show-off material.

I first saw Event Horizon in the theater on its original release, almost exactly 25 years ago in August of 1997. I was disappointed at the time, though I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe I more keenly felt the disappointment at the missed opportunities. On this more recent viewing, it’s clear to me that the ambition and intent were in the right place. The film was meddled out of greatness. But it wasn’t ruined. Event Horizon is a tense, disturbing horror story which avoids most of the cliches that have accumulated around the genre. It doesn’t stick its landing (and the use of an irritating Prodigy tune over the end credits is a big bummer.) But it’s developed a cult following for a reason.

Event Horizon has been released on UHD 4K and Blu-ray by Paramount. This limited edition steelbook release includes the 4K disc with the film, and a Blu-ray with the film and extras. It’s worth noting these extras are all from the previous Paramount Blu-ray release, and do not include the new extras that were produced for last year’s Shout Factory Blu-ray. Extras on disc include an audio commentary by director Paul Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt. Video extras include “The Making of Event Horizon” (104 min), a five-part documentary on the making of the film; “The Point of No Return: The Filming of Event Horizon” (8 min) where the director discusses filming; “Secrets” (10 min), deleted and extended scenes with director commentary; and “The Unseen Event Horizon” (7 min), which details unfilmed scenes.

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Kent Conrad

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