Sunday, 8 November 2015

Event Horizon was an Event, Critic

The Nostalgia Critic's done a review of Event Horizon.

And I'm surprised that I find myself having to call him out on it; he's not omniscient, but he does seem to "get" his material more often than not, his reviews are usually beautifully put together, and Tamara and Malcolm give him some serious acting talent to work with.

This one, however, seems more phoned in and disinterested, like he only did it to satisfy fan requests. I can't fault that – no-one's expecting him to make a classic every fortnight, and all credit it to him for paying attention to his fanbase – but I'm surprised a guy who brands himself the Nostalgia Critic has to be reminded to respect the context of a prior decade. His claim that EH goes halfway and then gives up might seem true today, but it certainly wasn't in 1997. In its day, Event Horizon had two things the Nostalgia Critic failed to mention:
  1. A Setup
  2. A Payoff
Let's explore those, shall we?

The setup was a surprising level of realism. Space had become safe and fictionalised by '97. Apollo 13 was '95, but it was kind of the only thing out there that had done its homework on space. All the rest of it – Independence Day, Total Recall, even Starship Troopers – all showed space travel as no different to taking the bus. Zero gravity is expensive to replicate (Apollo 13 used the Vomit Comet, a plane that climbs to altitude then plunges for 30 seconds to give you an experience of zero grav – apparently it doesn't matter how good you are, you will be filling that airsick bag the first time) so most just ignored it and went with another generic set. Space in the movies became comfortable, convenient, not-at-all realistic place to be.

Now watch those opening scenes from EH again: the crew has to be awoken from cryo-sleep because they're been coasting for months, giving us a profound sense of isolation (the same technique was applied to Wolf Creek, for the same reasons); despite that, we're only as far out as Neptune, a familiar part of Earth's neighbourhood and a seemingly achievable destination; we're shown a surprisingly realistic docking sequence; the technobabble explaining how the gravity drive works namedrops Hermann Weyl, a real mathematician whose work really did centre around the curvature used in special relativity; and they actually have to go to the trouble of switching the Horizon's artificial gravity on – a handwave perhaps, but at least it showed they weren't taking us for complete idiots. Even the Weir's uniform showing the Aboriginal flag has been merged into the flag of Australia was a nice grounding detail reflecting real (and, in the U.S., probably mostly unnoticed) social tensions. Functionally, the set design of Event Horizon might've been ripping off Alien, but the effect was more like The Martian. This movie starts by putting us firmly in our own universe.

And the payoff? Well, consider that in 1997, "horror" by and large meant Scream clones. The story of how Scream was supposed to bury the slasher genre once and for all but ended up reviving it instead is well-known today, but in '96 I and a whole generation like me were too young to've seen the movies it was mocking. Scream was my first slasher, and it stood on its own merits as a slasher; that it was also the Cabin in the Woods of its day didn't really register, but it was good enough that it didn't need to. I just took it as I found it, which was seriously enough that it was able to support its own parody, Scary Movie, in 2000 (and that one really hasn't aged well).

So Scream and all the movies that piggybacked it (the only one I can remember now being I Know What You Did Last Summer) revived the slasher genre, but ironically, by modern standards they pulled their punches quite a bit. Blood and gore was rather lacking. Plenty of people got stabbed or hacked to death, sure, but these moments were skipped over very quickly and the camera didn't linger on injuries much. And it wasn't a case of "Of course not, old movies are lame" either, all the classic slashers of the '80s were happy to give us a bit of splatter. There was nothing in Scream that could compare with Freddy Krueger's death scenes a decade earlier; even the blink-and-you-miss-it skinning flashbacks in Dredd were more than you'd get from a '90s horror movie.

This isn't to say hardcore splatter wasn't out there – the Hellraiser franchise was trucking on, somehow, for example – but if you wanted to see it you generally had to leave the mainstream, which was hard to do in the era of VHS. If you didn't know somebody with a fuckhueg video collection you had to know where the specialty shops were, or hope your local video rental place had something on the shelves.

Do you see where I'm going with this? It did go all the way, Critic. I know this won't impress those with the stomach for a Saw marathon, but in its day this was a horror movie that was actually horrifying. The infamous crew's log and the images Weir projected into Miller's head were seriously fucked up, and they flashed by so fast you were left thinking "what the hell did I just see?!" And it had an effect. The line "Where we're going, we won't need eyes to see," is basically a meme, and one redditor said that, when Sam Neill appeared here in Australia in ads urging us to eat more red meat, they found they were really not comfortable with Weir talking to us about meat. I get that today, after Saw and Hostel have created a genre so graphic they literally call it Torture Porn, Event Horizon must look like a boring movie with the good stuff mostly edited out. But it wasn't like that at the time; it was A Serbian Film.

Now, I'm not arguing that it was actually a good movie, the cast really did seem bored with it and the ghost stuff is pretty cringeworthy. But don't look at it from grimdark future of 2015 and scratch your head like it's a mystery why anyone was ever scared by it. Those quick cuts were the stuff of nightmares.

Also, the black guy survives. That's gotta be worth something.

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