Set in 2047, the film follows a crew of astronauts sent on a rescue mission after a missing space ship, the Event Horizon, spontaneously appears in orbit around Neptune. Searching the ship for signs of life, the rescue crew learns that the Event Horizon was responsible for testing an experimental engine that opened a rift in the space time continuum, allowing a hostile entity on board the ship.
The film had a troubled production history, with filming and editing rushed by Paramount when it became clear that Titanic would not meet its projected release date. The original 130-minute cut of the film was heavily edited by demand of the studio, to the consternation of director Paul W.S. Anderson. Upon release, the film was a commercial and critical failure, grossing $26.7 million against a $60 million production budget; critics compared the film unfavorably to Alien, Hellraiser, The Black Hole, Solaris, Stargate, Fantastic Voyage, The Andromeda Strain, The Shining, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Despite its failure at the box office, the film began to sell well on home video; its initial DVD release sold so well that Paramount contacted Anderson shortly after its release to begin working on a restoration of the deleted footage. However, it turned out that the footage had either been lost or destroyed. In the years since, the film has slowly built a dedicated cult following and is often referenced and parodied in other works of pop culture.
In 2047, a distress signal is received from the Event Horizon, a starship that disappeared during its maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri seven years before and mysteriously reappeared in a decaying orbit around Neptune. The rescue vessel Lewis and Clark is dispatched to look for survivors and determine what happened. Captain Miller of the Lewis and Clark – along with second in command Lieutenant Starck, pilot Smith, medical technician Peters, engineer Ensign Justin, Doctor D.J., and rescue technician Cooper are also joined by Dr. William Weir. Dr. Weir, who designed the Event Horizon, briefs the crew on the ship's experimental gravity drive. The drive generates an artificial black hole and uses it to bridge two points in spacetime, reducing travel time over astronomical distances.
Upon boarding the Event Horizon, the crew finds evidence of a massacre. As they search for survivors, the ship's gravity drive automatically activates. Justin is briefly pulled into the resulting portal. The activation also causes a shock wave that damages the Lewis and Clark, forcing the entire crew to board the Event Horizon. After Justin is pulled out, he is in a catatonic state, terrified by what he saw on the other side. He attempts suicide, forcing the crew to place him in stasis.
The team begin to experience hallucinations corresponding to their fears and regrets: Miller sees Corrick, a subordinate he was forced to abandon to his death; Peters sees her son with his legs covered in bloody lesions; and Weir sees his late wife, with missing eyes, urging him to join her. The crew soon discover a video log of the Event Horizon's crew going insane and mutilating each other. The video log ends with a shot of the Event Horizon's captain, who has apparently gouged out his own eyes, holding them up to the camera and saying in Latin, "liberate tuteme ex inferis" ("save yourself from Hell"). Miller and D.J. deduce that the ship's gravity drive opened a gateway into a dimension outside the known universe. Starck theorizes that the Event Horizon has somehow become a sentient being which is tormenting its occupants in an attempt to kill them or lure them back through the portal.
Miller decides to destroy the Event Horizon. Peters is lured to her death by a hallucination of her son. Weir, who has gouged his own eyes out and is now possessed by the evil presence, uses an explosive device to destroy the Lewis and Clark. The explosion kills Smith and blasts Cooper off into space. Weir kills D.J. by vivisecting him and corners Starck on the bridge. Miller confronts Weir, who overpowers him and initiates a 10-minute countdown until the Event Horizon will return to the other dimension.
Cooper, having used his space suit's oxygen supply to propel himself back to the ship, appears at the bridge window. Weir shoots at him and is blown into space by the ensuing decompression. Miller, Starck, and Cooper survive and manage to seal off the ship's bridge. With their own ship destroyed, Miller plans to split the Event Horizon in two and use the forward section of the ship as a lifeboat. He is attacked by manifestations of Corrick and a resurrected Weir. Miller fights them off and detonates the explosives, sacrificing himself.
The gravity drive activates, pulling the ship's rear section into a black hole. Starck and Cooper enter stasis, beside a comatose Justin, and wait to be rescued. Seventy-two days later, the forward section of the Event Horizon is boarded by a rescue party, who discover the remaining crew still in stasis. A newly awakened Starck sees Weir posing as one of the rescuers, then wakes up screaming and is comforted by Cooper. As Cooper restrains the terrified Starck and one of the rescuers calls for a sedative, the doors ominously close.
After directing the successful Mortal Kombat in 1995, Anderson was offered the job. The release date had already been set and Anderson agreed, despite that the deadline meant that the post-production period was severely reduced. On the commentary, Anderson cites this as the main cause for the many troubles faced during production and especially when Anderson was to make decisions on the final cut.
In the film's commentary, Anderson mentions the wish he had to direct an R-rated picture after the PG-13 rated Mortal Kombat and also mentions that he turned down the opportunity to direct Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Alien: Resurrection, and X-Men in order to make Event Horizon.
As Anderson explains, directors usually have a standard 10-week editing period to produce the first cut of a film, as guaranteed by the Directors Guild of America. However, due to the short production schedule of the film, the rapidly approaching release date, and the fact that principal photography hadn't completed yet, Anderson agreed with the Paramount studio to an editing period of six weeks and promised to deliver the film ready for release in August 1997, as Paramount wanted to have a hit film before Titanic, which they were going to release in September. When the main unit wrapped, Anderson was supposed to start editing the film, but he still had to shoot two weeks with the second unit, effectively shortening the time he could spend in post-production to just four weeks. In that short amount of time, only a rough cut of the film could be assembled. Anderson notes that at two hours and 10 minutes, it was overly long, with weak directing and acting that could have used a further editing pass, unfinished special effects and a poor sound mix.
In test screenings the cut was poorly received. There were complaints about the extreme amount of gore, and Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt claim members of the test audience fainted during the screening. Paramount, which had stopped looking at the dailies before any of the gore was shot and were seeing the completed film for the first time along with the audience, were similarly shocked by how gruesome it was and demanded a shorter length time with a decreased amount of gore.
Anderson believes that while his first cut was justifiably considered too long, Paramount forced him to make a cut that was instead too short, and that it would benefit by restoring around 10 minutes of missing footage, including some of the deleted gore. After a successful initial DVD release, the studio and Anderson became interested in assembling a director's cut but they quickly found out that the excised footage had not been carefully stored and that much of it had gone missing. The plan to assemble a director's cut was abandoned and instead a Special Edition two-DVD set was released that featured one deleted scene, two extended scenes, and a few shots of deleted material in the included making-of. The footage is of "video" quality.
Known deleted scenes include a meeting scene between Weir and people in charge of the mission in which they discuss Event Horizon, some dialogue of which remained present in the theatrical trailer; more backstory for Cooper and Justin, including a stronger explanation for Justin entering the black hole; a deleted backstory of the relationship between Starck and Miller; additional scenes explaining what the gateway to hell/black hole is; Miller finding a tooth floating in Event Horizon, a longer version of the scene in which Peters hallucinates that her son's mangled legs are covered in maggots; a scene in which Weir hallucinates that Justin turns into his wife Claire; a bloodier version of Weir's wife Claire's suicide; a longer version of the scene where Miller finds D.J's dead body with his guts on the table; and a longer version of the "Visions From Hell" scene during Miller's final fight with Weir with more shots of Event Horizon crew being tortured.
The "bloody orgy" video was also longer. As Anderson was sometimes too busy filming other scenes, second unit director Vadim Jean filmed some parts of this scene. Real-life amputees were used for special effects scenes in which Event Horizon crew members were mutilated, and porn actors were hired to make the sex and rape scenes more realistic and graphic.
The film's final ending was a combination of two unused alternate endings that were filmed. One did not have a jump scare at the end when the last two survivors are found by another rescue crew and Starck hallucinates that she sees Weir, although there was a similar version of the scene included in this ending where she hears screams of Event Horizon crew and screams in fear before Cooper wakes her up. This was the original ending of the film included in the shooting script. The second ending had Miller fighting with the burned man from his visions at the core instead of with Weir, but this was changed due to the negative test screening.
In an Event Horizon Q&A in 2011, Anderson was asked when extra footage will be made available. He responded "never", explaining that much of it is gone forever. However, in a 2012 interview he announced that producer Lloyd Levin had found a VHS tape with his original rough cut. Anderson said that after finishing Resident Evil: Retribution, he planned to watch it for the first time since assembling the film. In a January 2017 interview, Anderson reiterated a director's cut will never be released as the footage doesn't exist anymore. Asked about the VHS tape, he said neither he, nor Levin, had watched it yet, as Levin moved to Spain, however he was still excited about watching it at some point.
Michael Kamen was hired to compose the score for the film. Director Paul W. S. Anderson, a fan of hybrid genre music, invited the electronic dance music duo Orbital to collaborate with Kamen and to provide synthesizing sounds for the film's unsettling atmosphere.
A soundtrack album was released which edited various cues from the score into four tracks of approximately ten minutes.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 24% based on reviews from 37 critics whereas on Metacritic it scored a rating of 35. Critics praised its visuals, the cast, Anderson's direction paying homage to films like Alien and The Shining and especially its production design and moody atmosphere while feeling that the third act is anti-climactic with many questions remaining unanswered.
Roger Ebert gave the film 2 stars out of 4, stating, "The script creates a sense of foreboding and afterboding, but no actual boding." Washington Post critic Stephen Hunter wrote,"If you want to have that Event Horizon experience without spending the seven bucks, try this instead: Put a bucket on your head. Have a loved one beat on it vigorously with a wrench for 100 minutes. Same difference, and think of the gas you'll save".
On the other hand, the film had some early supporters, with Empire magazine awarding Event Horizon a 3 out of 5 stars rating, reporting: "That the film never fulfils its promise is down to its over reliance on horror vagaries in a precision-built sci-fi milieu, ultimately leaving too many unanswered queries. A sharper script and a more credible solution could have turned this impressive hokum into a force to be reckoned with". Additionally, Total Film also gave it a score of 3 out of 5 stars, stating that "Excellent special effects and an Alien-esque feel make this supernatural horror film ("The Shining in space," as most critics have called it, pretty accurately) well worth a look. There are certainly plenty of jumps on offer as a possessed ship torments and tortures any humans it can find. Well worth a look.". Entertainment Weekly gave it a B-, stating, "Just when you’ve written off this deep-space nightmare as a late-summer melange of Alien, Fantastic Voyage, The Shining, and a dozen more forgettable otherworldly thrillers, it unleashes some of the most unsettling horror imagery in years", whereas the Time Out magazine mentioned that "despite its shortcomings, this is never dull. The movie avoids Alien space monster clichés brilliantly and the soundtrack contains more of the 'Boo!' effects than I've heard since Halloween."
Event Horizon grossed $26,616,590 in the US.