Despite it being 18 years old, the movie holds up well. It uses gore, shocks, and a genuinely disturbing idea to produce a combination of good science fiction and great horror. The defining theme of the film is perception, specifically sight, and uses a gothic palette to paint a gloomy, almost steampunk aesthetic.
What Philip Eisner the screenwriter didn’t count on was the direction modern culture took between 1997 and 2015, focusing inward rather than outward. After the credits, the first words we see on the screen are: “2015 – First permanent colony established on Moon.” We are nowhere near that now, and not likely to be there within the next several decades. The drive toward risk and exploration is gone, unfortunately, and can only be found among a few wealthy entrepreneurs. While this takes us out of the film a bit, it’s a temporary departure: we’re immediately thrown into Dr. Weir’s nightmare of the Event Horizon afterward. Grim, derelict, with a floating, eyeless corpse. The camera takes us through the corpse’s screaming mouth and into Weir’s eye. In fact, it’s the first we see of Weir: an extreme close-up of his eye.
The Event Horizon itself has become possessed by Hell, literally, and everything we see of it shows how it’s been poisoned. The viscera splattered about the interior from the bizarre orgy captured in bits and pieces by the ship’s log is disturbing, more so because nobody from the Lewis and Clark bothers to clean it up or even mentions it. From the ship’s cruciform shape to its head-shaped bridge, we’re meant to know that the Event Horizon’s possession represents the fall of both God and Man.
Spiked, opening and closing like a massive, fearsome eye, the heart of the Event Horizon is the gravity drive, a device that folds space. It’s only accessible through a long hallway rigged with explosives and a shorter corridor that spins in a disorienting fashion. Hell, literal Hell is in that gravity drive, waiting to be released. From the spikes inside the chamber to the bizarre engraving on the drive itself, there’s no mistaking that this thing is evil incarnate, which is one of the film’s weaknesses: didn’t anyone take a look at this thing during the architecture phase of the FTL project and go, “Yeah, that’s messed up.”? Are the humans of the future that blase? The crew of the Lewis and Clark was appropriately disquieted, at least.
Most effectively, the film’s theme, sight, puts the viewer in the role of an honorary crewmember of the Lewis and Clark. After all, what do you do with a movie except watch it? The villains all had their eyes ripped out, from the doomed captain of the Event Horizon to Weir, who blinded himself. Weir’s wife Claire, when we see her outside of flashbacks, is also missing her eyes. Justin, who had been briefly swallowed up by the Hell beyond the gate, made an unsuccessful suicide attempt by jettisoning out into space without a suit and lost his eyes as a result (the blood squirting from his face in zero-gravity). Peters falls to her death as a result of following a ghost that only she could see; her own vision killed her. When Miller asks Weir, “What happened to your eyes, doctor?” Weir responds, “Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.” And at the end, when the possessed Weir has Miller at his mercy, he shows Miller horrible visions of grotesque brutality, all the while asking him, “Do you see? Do you see?” Perception, in Event Horizon, is reality. The possessed ship can make you see what it wants you to, and when it’s finished with you, it takes away your eyes so that you’ll see nothing else except the appalling torment it has in store.
Obviously, the film isn’t perfect. The Lewis and Clark suffers from the unimaginatively grungy look that many seem to think future spacecraft will invariably possess, and the characters play to type without developing in any way, shape, or form. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to spend 96 minutes, and it’s currently available on Netflix. Watch it (again).