Looking Back At EVENT HORIZON - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace translates a distress signal.
Space is a scary place; in the heavens far above solid ground, nobody can hear you scream. It is a cold, empty place, where we need to either be in utilitarian ships or in clunky suits to actually experience in any survivable way. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his novel Aurora, made the argument that life is fundamentally a planetary phenomenon; going from this, it is only natural that a planetary phenomenon would react poorly to being off its planet of origin.

Since we know so little about what is actually in the cosmos, it is only natural that we fill the gaps with whatever we please in our fiction. Sometimes, we fill it with what we see in our nightmares rather than our pleasant dreams. And in Event Horizon, director Paul W. S. Anderson and writer Philip Eisner decide to make it literally hell. The plot is often compared to 1979’s The Black Hole, both involving space expeditions that find lost ships (and involving black holes), but here the finding was deliberate if kept secret.
The Event Horizon is the doomed ship in this film; the actual term ‘event horizon’ is the point of no return in a black hole, from which nothing can escape. The naming of a ship just feels like tempting fate, like naming an airplane or spaceship after Icarus, he of Greek myth who tried to fly too close to the sun. It’s a little on the nose, but it works; one could argue that trying to reach another solar system is an act of massive hubris that, to the gods of an earlier era, would be beyond what humankind is meant to do.

The idea to set a horror story on a spaceship works very well in the hands of Anderson and Eisner. Spaceships in any halfway plausible setting (sorry, Star Wars, as much as I love you) are by necessity ruthlessly utilitarian vehicles. This sparseness is used very well; it feels like there is very little human warmth aboard the Event Horizon, creating a cramped, dark space that is a perfect setting for all sorts of horrors to lurk around in the shadows. You almost shiver looking at these environments nearly as cold as the void around them.
This movie made the very interesting decision to have its horror be of a religious nature; it turns out that in its attempt to reach another star, the Event Horizon went to literal fire-and-brimstone hell. It adds something shockingly familiar to the whole ordeal, compared to the hostile alienness of space. This hell not only drives you mad, but does so by tormenting you with your very own memories, with loved ones showing up ever so briefly, tempting you just before you end up dying in some grisly fashion. Aboard that damned vessel, the only glimpses of anything you hold dear will be used to torment you and then to butcher you, and that will be the last you ever see of them. It’s a scary thought, and a brilliant concept.

One detail that I noticed which I found quite clever: the Event Horizon is shaped like a cross; whether you interpret that as the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified or the inverted cross nowadays associated with Satan (although doubtlessly Saint Peter would find that distasteful) is up to you. It does signal early on, though, that the movie is drawing on Christian conceptions of the afterlife. It feels like building your ship in this shape is almost as short-sighted as naming the ship the Event Horizon.
It is an absolute travesty that this film was not a greater success; it bombed both critically and commercially when it was released in 1997. It also strangled Philip Eisner’s writing career in the womb, which feels absolutely unjustifiable to me given just what he pulled off here. Event Horizon was and still remains a masterclass in showing how to make outer space truly scary and should be studied by those who want to do just that.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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