When I first saw this film, it angered me. No, actually, it enraged me. I became obsessed with this film. I was obsessed with hating it. The reason was that it had so much to like about it, so much potential and such a great cast... yet it also chose to be as brutal, clumsy and senseless as it did.
This film has fantastic production design. The sets are grand, well conceived, appropriately lit (dark, somber) and appear quite solid and functional. The design is heavily influenced by gothic styles. The space craft of the title is like a cathedral. The interior is designed to appear functional and clean and quite at home in science fiction... when all the lights are on. When the lights have gone down a bit, when a character is alone and anxious, the interior feels oppressive and sinister and there is more than a passing resemblance to a torture chamber; this becomes bluntly obvious later on as it literally becomes one, but for now, it is an impressive world of functional and intriguing design. Of special note is, again, the gothic cathedral appearance of the ship's exterior, and the almost cross-like front view port of the ship.
For some reason, the combination of science fiction and horror creates a special mood, one that I love, and Event Horizon sets that mood perfectly through its visual design.
The cinematography is, at times, beautiful. Almost every frame is composed with intent and care to evoke some kind of mood and to show you only enough to worry you. The sets are shown off wonderfully with the cinematography.
Now, lets talk about fear: Setting aside, for the moment, the obvious flaw of "boo! I scared you!" moments (and there are plenty of lame BOO! moments), this film contains some very scary moments that rely totally on mood, anticipation and suggestion.
Minor Spoiler Paragraph:
The ship seems to be haunted. But not by ghosts. It seems to be drawing out the personal issues of the inhabitants and using them to instill fear. This is done quite well, though much could be expanded on for further character development. The mood and action suggests that you're about to see something horrible such as a man headed on a walk out into space without a suit or "what's that under the sheet??"
End of Minor Spoiler Paragraph.
This leads me to where I must note that this movie has one of the most realistic "unprotected human in the vacuum of space" scenes since 2001. Here is where movies of old would have shown you a gross and bloody explosion (or lame puffing-out of face and eyeballs, as found in Total Recall). Not Event Horizon. In fact, up to this point, the movie has done an excellent job of giving you almost a "hard science" approach to its fictional technology. You get to see that there is artificial gravity (something that isn't always on), sleep chambers to hibernate travelers on long journeys, a brilliantly scripted lay man's explanation of FTL travel (bending space), and even one I've never seen before: the sleep chambers are water tanks, to cushion the frail humans during the intense G forces of acceleration and deceleration.
So, up to now, we have a beautiful and intelligent film. Then comes the part that ruins all that.
Before the real spoilers, I thought it would be a good idea to stress that this film is NIGHTMARE FUEL. Do NOT let young children watch it. It deserves the R rating. If your children are easily confused by vaguely intentioned violence (you can't explain "why"), are easily scared into having bad dreams by scary movies, or especially if they are night-terror prone, this film should be kept away from them until they are old enough (which is probably the film's R rating legal age minimum). I have heard that this film was shortened to its current running length from a longer version that still sits on the cutting room floor. I can only imagine what they had to cut to avoid an X rating. The violence it retains can leave lasting negative impressions. It did on me, and I was already a "brave adult" at the time.
Here is where I warn you of Serious Plot Spoilers from here to the end of the review!
The movie suddenly takes a 180 degree turn. A supporting character dies in a relatively pointless and stupid manner, eliminating any chance of knowing more about the character's personal dark background. This leads one of the main characters to change from a good, complex and interesting man (with dark agonies of his own personal life) into an evil and hateful brutal murderer that seems to kill for the pleasure of causing suffering in his victims. His actions directly or indirectly cause the death of several other people (some of which, as an audience member, I really felt bad for because they were somewhat likable and they did nothing to invite their unkind fate, unlike other horror movies where they tend to give good reasons to slaughter some of the characters). The goals and motivations of this "changed man" are nowhere to be seen. His actions make no sense and have no apparent justification or explanation. The movie itself takes on this personality as it stops suggesting things and starts showing them. Up front. Brutally. Grossly. Most of all, needlessly. It is as though the film's creators suddenly lost all ability to hold back and instead tried to find ways to disgust the audience both physically (visually) and emotionally (justification? motivation? reason? NONE!). This film is one of few to actually upset my insides. Not just through the gore, but the kind of violent gore portrayed and the totally unjustified and random nature of it. I suppose this is the point.
The climax of the film is the survivors trying to escape their impending doom. I was amazed that the film allowed the survivors that it did. One last good point for it, I guess.
The problem in the film lies in the fact that it was doing a great job at being interesting, frightening and beautiful, but then suddenly decided to throw all that away and go for 100% shock and senselessness. Ending up like that, is to me, an insult to the audience. The audience has been set up for a great treat of intellectual scares (minus the BOO! moments) and then they are bashed over the head with shocking insanity.
The part that leaves me the most frustrated about this film is that it appears to have set out to do exactly what it did to me. Set me up with expectations and then bash me over the head with the shattering of them. It worked. I was shocked and bothered. Even somewhat sickened. Yet... oooohh... I still... LIKED a great deal of the content in the movie to a GREAT extent. I was so angry and disgusted with this film, yet I found myself referring to it all the time. Using it as an example of this or that kind of technical accomplishment in films. Using it as a kind of "tool to measure other films by" (as good or bad example). After years of reflecting on the one time I saw the film and how I was enraged by it, I have a strange desire to see it again! I find my own creative works influenced by it (positively). What the hell did they do to me?
Reading commentary from the creators, it seemed that they intended everything to happen as it did. Does that take away the negative aspects of being clumsy and brutal after having demonstrated an ability to do wonderfully without it? I can't honestly say.
If you're reading this as a person who has not seen it, and you're looking for help in deciding whether you should see it, I must admit that this film is an education on both how to make a frightening science fiction horror movie... and how NOT to. Both at the same time. If you love great set designs and art direction and visuals and cinematography, there is a great deal of enjoyment for you to get out of this film. The problem is when all of that is shamed by the brutality and mindlessness of the film's climax.
To bring this rant to a close: I know nothing about how well this film did monetarily either in the box office or in rental. However, Event Horizon is so confusing on so many different levels that it may leave you totally devoid of the ability to make a solid judgment on it (as it has left me). If this was the goal of the filmmakers, then they have been totally successful.
Review by dysamoria from the Internet Movie Database.