Friday, 3 July 2015

Event Horizon (1997)

You can't always pin down the moment a film goes off the rails, but with Event Horizon it is trivially easy.  It's when Sean Pertwee's character dies.

It's not the event itself that is the issue.  As much as I enjoy Pertwee's work, his role in this film is relatively minor.  But the explosion that snuffs out his character marks a dramatic shift in the film's tone; from effective if thuddingly unsubtle haunted house film to much less effective and equally as unsubtle action flick. The script does makes one last gasp pitch at a scare right at the end, but frankly it's frittered away its tension and impact to such a great extent that it just gave me the giggles.

The premise of the film is a potentially interesting one: the "Event Horizon" was an experimental space vessel that disappeared on its maiden voyage.  Suddenly, seven years later, it reappears.  There are no responses to attempts at radio contact, so another ship is dispatched to investigate.  Upon arrival, the rescue crew quickly finds that there is something desperately, desperately wrong with the "Event Horizon".  If only their own ship hadn't been badly damaged during the process of that discovery - they're now stuck until repairs can be effected.

I found Event Horizon a pretty tension-inducing film when it first came out, but sitting on the couch at home is a very different experience to seeing it on the big screen, and I'm a lot more familiar with the various techniques of scary cinema these days than I was then.  As often as it manages to be creepy - and it does manage it fairly often - it throws in a cheap jump scare or hysterically overdone sequence that stops just short of having some guy walk on screen with a placard saying "ARE YOU SCARED YET?".

Still, up until about the hour mark, the film does work pretty well.  Unfortunately, it then attempts an Aliens-style genre shift from tension to action, and it simply doesn't carry it off with the same panache as the earlier film.

Side note: if you think the first part of Aliens wasn't scary, dig up the original theatrical release some time and re-watch it up to the first alien attack.  It's a darn effective piece of horror film-making, and a reminder of how good a director James Cameron once was.

The things the characters of this film see make them gouge their own eyes out.  It would be unfair to say that Event Horizon has the same effect on its audience, but is definitely a film that goes badly awry.

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