Two Horror Films from Paramount
Beneath (January 24/09)
Though it kicks off with a relatively promising prologue, Beneath's few positive elements are ultimately rendered moot by an almost impossibly slow-moving narrative that's exacerbated by Nora Zehetner's woefully flat turn as the central character. The storyline follows Zehetner's Christy Wescot as she returns to her hometown six years after the horrific death of her older sister (Carly Pope's Vanessa), with the bulk of the movie devoted to Christy's investigation into Vanessa's mysterious demise. It's the fact-finding mission that Christy embarks on that inevitably spells Beneath's death knell, as screenwriters Kevin Burke and Dagen Merill have infused the majority of such sequences with a tedious, overly simplistic sensibility that becomes increasingly difficult to overlook. The attractive yet underwhelming cast effectively perpetuates the pseudo-WB vibe and ensures that the film's consistent efforts at transcending its low-budget, direct-to-video origins prove fruitless, with Burke and Merill's inability to transform Christy into a compelling figure certainly contributing heavily to Beneath's undeniable downfall (although it's impossible to discount the negative effect that Zehetner's astonishingly emotionless performance has on the proceedings). There's little doubt that the aforementioned opening stands as the one compelling interlude within an effort that's otherwise entirely lackluster, and it's finally impossible to envision even the target demographic of teenagers finding much worth embracing here.
A haunted-house movie set within a spaceship, Event Horizon follows a ragtag group of futuristic astronauts as they attempt to discern just where the title craft has been for the past seven years - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that the ship has traveled well beyond the boundaries of known space. There's little doubt that Event Horizon instantly captures one's interest thanks to Paul W.S. Anderson's atmospheric directorial choices and Joseph Bennett's eye-popping production design, with the latter proving instrumental in the film's overall impact and success (ie the amazingly intricate sets alone justify a viewing). It's also worth noting that the movie, which admittedly does get off to a relatively slow start, improves considerably as it progresses, with the presence of several increasingly eerie set-pieces allowing one to overlook some of the more overtly ineffective elements within Philip Eisner's screenplay. Ranking high on the film's list of deficiencies is undoubtedly Eisner's penchant for infusing his characters with unapologetically stereotypical attributes, thus ensuring that talented performers such as Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Jason Isaacs find themselves trapped within the confines of figures that are far from fresh (ie there's the firm-yet-fair commander, the sassy black guy, the enthusiastic rookie, etc). Still, Event Horizon is - by and large - a tremendously entertaining, flat-out disturbing horror effort that boasts a number of justifiably indelible sequences (ie Neill's William Weir encounters a spooky apparition within a green-tinged venting system).