Thursday, October 30, 2014

October Spook-tacular Playoffs: Event Horizon

at 6:00 PM
The List:
The Conjuring (2013)
The Mist (2007)
Event Horizon (1997)
Parents (1989)
Halloween (1978)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Quartermass Xperiment (1955)
Cat People (1942)
The Mummy (1932)
The  Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Infinite criticism.
Title: Event Horizon
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer: Philip Eisner
Actors I recognize: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishbarn

What I know going in: One mans goes to space, but what happens when he can't come back... from space? Actually I know that Sam Neill is going to turn evil and that an event horizon is the point of no return from a black hole. Little science bomb to drop on your head there.

I had a morbid curiosity about this one, as it has a positive reputation among bad scifi apologists the net over. Moreover, I'll watch Sam Neill in anything because I have yet to see him star in a bad picture. Until today. Let me drop a metaphor bomb on your head here: Event Horizon is on the wrong side of the event horizon of movie awfulness. Nothing good escapes from this black hole of creativity and entertainment, not even the great Sam Neill. It's not often I find a movie beyond forgiveness, but for me the fatal flaw is something to do with a lack of concept. Not since Jacob's Ladder have I seen a movie so confused and confusing about what it is or is trying to say. Event Horizon isn't so much a wild flurry of ideas; like a bad X-Files episode, it's a viewing experience where nothing happens and a wide array of flat, uninteresting, and far too specific self-commentary is strewn on the floor like as many dead bodies.

The basic idea is that a ship is lost in space and comes back seven years later, whereupon a bunch of Aliens-wannabes go check it out and find it had been in another dimension and came back as an apparently living haunted house? but people there can never die? and it still has a portal to the other dimension? Which it turns out is either basically or literally Hell; the movie is never particularly honest on whether people are capitalizing that word. So we have dimension-shifting, religious suggestions, inanimate things coming to life, possibly demonic possession, isolation, and a whole. lot. of. hallucinations. About half the movie is unrelated hallucinations.

The plot is so weirdly strung together that it feels like the filmmakers had a series of images in mind but no clue how to rope them into the same story. It reminds me of the music-video-esque Hellraiser 2, but at least Hellraiser 2 was relatively focused and genuinely out there. Really there isn't much story; what we get is mostly back-story - in the words of the illumined Ebert, "the screenplay creates a sense of foreboding and afterboding, but no actual boding". The gang gets stranded on the evil Event Horizon, we hear a lot of Sam Neill explaining/worshiping the ship, some side characters try to repair their escape shuttle entirely off-screen, and everyone else wanders about, either experiencing hallucinations or whining. No one does anything. Nothing about their scenario changes from beginning to end, and once we reach the end we actually learn they couldn't have done anything even if they wanted (they were past the event horizon! except two people still escape...).

The pacing here is a puked-in dumpster. The intro is dramatic nonsense, act 1 is pure exposition until someone finally finds a corpse, act 2 is people having inconsequential hallucinations and a bunch of undeveloped hanging threads (like fixing the ship and finding the Event Horizon's crew logs), and in act 3 finally someone fucking dies. The action becomes relentless but so scattered that everything remains an unsatisfying headache.

The handling of the burdensome hallucinations is utterly piss-poor. Dream sequences are a very difficult beast to slay, requiring a careful balance of deceit, implication, and consequence. Once I know events aren't for keeps, I tend to disengage. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons Twin Peaks is so good - it betrays that expectation and makes dreams/visions matter more than waking reality. But Event Horizon does not understand this balancing act. Hallucinations take form as things whose if-this-is-real implications are just really stupid. A crew member sees her son with wounds on his legs. Oh my god, what if he's really on the ship? Not only do I not see how that could be true, I don't care. So what if her son is on the ship? Or in hell? Is there anything she can or might have done about it? No. Does it tell us something about her character? She doesn't want bad things to happen to her son. Delightful. What a visionary trait. Is it an incarnation of a past sin? If it is, I certainly can't figure it out, nor does this character get enough screen-time for me to know what that means to her. I hate this part of the movie so much

The function of the dream sequences in the overall plot is perplexingly nonsensical. The crew is eventually clued in to the root of the terror: the ship is alive! Wait, the ship is alive? What does that have to do with people going insane? Ohhhhh, the hallucinations are a "defense mechanism", like "some kind of immune system" (hi terrible screenwriting cliche!). Those are two completely different ideas. Crew members tripping balls. Ship is alive. Since when do we automatically assume hallucinations have an external origin? This is like when Mulder throws off a perfectly reasonable hypothesis about hypnotic suggestion by declaring "it's a form of psychokinesis!" The fact that we're given a single setup line about the scanners detecting life signs from all over the ship is essentially an insult, like one of the characters picking up a page from the script and reading "holy cow, the ship is alive?!".

And, unsurprisingly, the ship being alive creates exactly zero original conflict. The crew is fighting to escape the Event Horizon because they're running out of oxygen. That is the main boss of this movie. Was that supposed to create a sense of realism or something? With all the other shit going on, you'd think they'd want to leave anyway, but the fact that it's a failing oxygen supply that kicks them into gear makes it seem like it doesn't matter at all what happens, because they're going to be dead in four hours anyway. This redundant timer saps all the tension out of the would-be conflict with the ship or Evil Sam Neill.

The tone is also bad. Mostly I would call this dumpy perfunctory self-seriousness; the kind of scifi that acts realistic (people feel contemporary) but never earns it (they are still extremely movie-like). Yet occasionally we get an insane jolt of yakety-saxical comedy thanks to Eddie Murphy stand-in Cooper. Coop isn't in most of the movie, but when he shows up occasionally it's with whoopy-cushion one-liners and huge exaggerated expressions. Whoever wrote that character is an idiot. Whoever directed those scenes is an idiot. Whoever chose not to leave them on the cutting room floor is an idiot. Better yet, in the middle of a couple dramatic scenes with Mr. Justin (such as when he tries to commit suicide by explosive decompression) characters refer to him as "Baby Bear". This is never explained and extremely (unintentionally) hilarious. [watching guy bleeding out of his eyes] "Hang in there Baby Bear!"

Here is another scene that has a very very dumb tone
At the heart of all the movie's problems is the noncommittal approach to characters - I can't tell who the hell (Hell) this movie is about. It seems like maybe originally it was supposed to be the tale of Sam Neill's battles with guilt over his dead wife, but then it was decided that they wanted a third act where he's evil and that another character would need to take over. So Laurence Fishburne gets some haphazard exposition and, yay, a hallucination, revealing that he once let a man die because it was necessary in order to save others, and he never wants to do that again. Again, this is the yawniest of motivations ever conceived. Oh my god, the captain doesn't want anyone to die! It's not even like it's his fault that they're in this deadly situation; the whole crew was basically tricked into the mission and he didn't know their destination, let alone what had happened to it. There are enough periphery characters that get expository but not active development that I'm sure someone considers the novelization an ensemble tale. It doesn't work that way in movies. Remember how everyone has really strong personalities at the beginning of Aliens, and then they all immediately die anyway? Man I wish that had happened in Event Horizon.

Though it never makes a philosophical statement on any coherent level, Event Horizon has a bit of a Jurassic Park problem. See, Jurassic Park is a movie about the power of nature and mankind's attempts to control it. Giant dinosaurs are brought back to life and it is amazing and the scientific discovery of a lifetime, but terrible coincidences and one self-serving asshole cause a handful of deaths at their hands. But still, man has brought life to extinct species! Think of what we can learn! Except the moral of the story, as our Jeff Goldbums so clearly elucidate, is that that was a fucking mistake and should never have been done and it was playing god which is evil. That's a science-phobic crock of shit and a pretty damn ironic conclusion for a movie that revitalized pop-interest in paleontology and evolutionary biology. Come on, dinosaurs were not going to get out and destroy civilization. Event Horizon gets caught up in the same stew of equating technology to hubris; here it's theoretical physics. There's an attempt, presumably to make the movie seem like "real" science fiction, to explain some astronomical phenomena at a third-grade level. Why a trained space crew needs wormholes explained to them is a pretty reasonable question, but whatever. It's setup so that when shit hits the fan, the angry dumb guy can say, "you can't break the laws of physics without paying the consequences!". Hacky dialogue or not, the idea that experimentation is a gateway to hell is pure sourness. Should we shut down the space program every time a shuttle crashes? (perhaps appropriately, a NASA Antares rocket just exploded this week)

But maybe Event Horizon is just reaching for our instinctual fear of the unknown, forget about science. A tale Lovecraftian in purpose. But the essence of Lovecraft is that mankind is irrelevant - we aren't the ones ignoring the rest of the universe, the rest of the universe is ignoring us. A happy ending and a sense of containment undercuts any such thematics. The universe of Event Horizon is still anthropocentric. I mean, apparently the ship cares enough to give people personalized visions of their loved ones and past mistakes. There is no awe here, no cosmic loneliness. This is the kind of story that makes the invocation of Lovecraft a punchline rather than an honor.

It feels almost disingenuous to show you cool pictures as if they are in any way representative of the movie's quality
In other poorly executed concepts, I hate movies that conflate insanity with evil. This is not a legitimate criticism so much as an example of the the movie setting its sights really low, but it is boring when someone going "insane" just means they become a jerk like Sam Neill does here. Watch Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness or the fantastic French art-horror Possession if you want Sam Neill to show you how to lose a mind. God I wish I had just re-watched Possession instead of this.

I have a single compliment for Event Horizon. Some of the sets, with their intricate techno-gothic architecture, are very cool-looking. If you are the set designer for Event Horizon, congratulations for providing quality work amidst what I'm sure was a waterfall of shitheaded retardation. Though I do have to say your output feels a bit derivative of Warhammer 40K. Since that's not a movie, that's cool though.

Actually, hang on a second. Future humans create a warp portal that accidentally encroaches upon a chaos dimension from which spout possessing spirits and torture demons? And techno-gothic whatever? That's the plot of Warhammer 40K. This movie is WH40K: The Prequel. It's also a really huge ripoff of Hellraiser, but I gotta bring this bitchfest to an end sometime.

What I know going out: This movie is an insult to my intelligence.

Oh man, I forgot to mention Space Latin. Well, maybe next time.

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