Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Alien vs. Predator, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil and its last two sequels, has been praised as an auteur by a surprising number of critics and cinephiles in recent years. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, have these people actually seen Alien vs. Predator? On the other, I'm all for shining a light on talented filmmakers who work with disreputable material, and Anderson is a strong visual storyteller, with a sturdy sense of spatial continuity that most of the other Vulgar Auteurists lack (if you don't know what Vulgar Auteurism is, there's a Wikipedia entry you shouldn't look at, because you don't want to know).
Event Horizon is Anderson's best film (of the ones I've seen, at least); while the script is a grab bag of ideas from The Shining, Alien, Hellraiser, Solaris and others, Anderson's approach to deep space horror is very effective. The early parts of the movie are genuinely unsettling; as the crew of a rescue vessel explores the seemingly abandoned titular starship, Anderson, cinematographer Adrian Biddle and production designer Joseph Bennett do a fine job of creating a tense, foreboding atmosphere, occasionally teasing us with brief moments of hallucinatory imagery. Anderson also smartly followed Ridley Scott's example by assembling a cast of seasoned character actors, led by Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne, that lend the movie's scares credibility. While the movie goes off the rails by the end, with a more standard explosive finale then the first half promised, getting there is an enjoyably creepy ride.
Though Event Horizon was a flop when it was released, it's developed a cult following over the years. Fans of gory special effects, in particular, dig the movie's more gruesome bits, particularly an impressively sick scene that shows the starship's original crew's descent into madness and Hellraiser-esque bodily mutilation in brief, near-subliminal images that leave the viewer asking "Wait, what did I just see?" Anderson's original cut ran 30 minutes longer, before he was forced to trim down the movie to get an R rating and appease the studio, who wanted a more mainstream-friendly horror movie. Even in its current form, though, it deserves credit for going darker and more grotesque than almost any studio horror at the time. And I'll always admire it for inspiring the "Woodland Critter Christmas" episode of South Park ("Hail Satan!").
U.S. Release Date: August 15, 1997 (Also opening that day: Cop Land, Steel, The Full Monty)
What critics said at the time:
"But the nerdy imaginationless punk inside of me was extremely dissatisfied with the ultimate explanation for the phantom of the space opera, which proved to be both obvious (think of Doc Frankenstein screaming 'It's alive!') and unresonant. My inner atavistic teen boy, on the other hand, liked the clammy sense of intensity and the several neat movie deaths, space explosions and other scenes of gore and ick (Hell is envisioned as an endless landscape of crucifixion: cool!)." - Stephen Hunter, Washington Post
"As the captain, Laurence Fishburne, working with a barely written role, turns himself into a soldier of stoic cool (even his voice is square-jawed), but he is finally staring into the face of hell — a De Sadeian theater of violated flesh, served up in razory shock cuts that dig into your subconscious. Event Horizon could have used a decent script, but the director, Paul Anderson, is a stylist to watch." - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly