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Nightflyers Review: If You Really Want to See a Haunted Spaceship, Go Watch Event Horizon

The sci-fi horror series is no fun

Liam Mathews

The good thing about Syfy's Nightflyers is that it's better than the awkwardly written George R.R. Martin novella on which it's based. The bad thing about it is that it's not as good as Paul W.S. Anderson's cult favorite movie Event Horizon, which took the "haunted house in space" sci-fi horror premise of Martin's book and made it into trashy fun. Nightflyers the show is no fun. It's a grim, drab, thematically underdeveloped plot delivery system. It's a network show with a bigger budget and more blood.

Nightflyers tells the story of an expedition into deep space to try to make contact with a super-powered alien race in the hope of getting them to help save the crew's dying home planet. To communicate with them, astrophysicist and expedition leader Karl D'Branin (Eoin Macken) has enlisted the help of Thale (Sam Strike), an extremely powerful but extremely unstable psychic (referred to as an "L1" for reasons that are never explained), and Thale's psychiatrist Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol), who's also Karl's ex-girlfriend. The other passengers don't trust Thale and blame him when terrifying violent acts start happening on the ship. But nothing is quite what it seems and everyone has secrets, especially Roy Eris (David Ajala), captain of the Nightflyer.

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There are a couple of things that work for Nightflyers, at least through the five episodes made available for review. One is its fast pace and streamlined dialogue. It burns through plot rapidly like a network show fighting for renewal, and twists that weren't revealed until late in Martin's book happen in the first few episodes, which is refreshing after watching so many baggy streaming dramas where no plot happens for hours. The characters may not be particularly interesting, but at least they're doing stuff. The other thing that works are solid performances by Mol, Fargo's Angus Sampson and the very charismatic Jodie Turner-Smith, who plays genetically engineered engineer Melantha Jherl. Turner-Smith is not famous yet, but she will be. (She's already booked a starring role opposite Daniel Kaluuya in a buzzy Lena Waithe-penned "black Bonnie & Clyde" movie.) And the cinematography and the giant looping hallway part of the set look nice.

But a lot of other stuff is broken. Eoin Macken's performance is as inconsistent as his accent, but he wasn't given much to work with. The characters are all thin tropes (D'Branin is haunted by the loss of his daughter! Matheson is also haunted by the loss of a child! Eris has mommy issues!). The pilot episode hints that the home planet is dying due to climate change, which would make the show about something, but that angle is quickly abandoned. The production design is mostly a palette of lifeless shades of gray. Besides the hallway loop, there's nothing distinctive about the interior, which will make you appreciate Event Horizon's insane, impractical gothic architecture even more.

Event Horizon is not a good movie, but it is a fun movie, and fun is where Nightflyers comes up short. It's a joyless affair. No one makes any surprising acting choices. There's no comic relief. The sci-fi elements aren't particularly stimulating. The gory deaths aren't particularly scary. It takes itself more seriously than its ideas can pull off. It's a haunted spaceship, you know? Lighten up and embrace the gimmick.

Nightflyers premieres Sunday, Dec. 2 at 10/9c on Syfy. Episodes 1-5 will air each night starting Sunday, Dec. 2 through Thursday, Dec. 6, and Episodes 6-10 will air Sunday, Dec. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 13 at 10/9c. New episodes will be available to stream on SYFY's apps timed to their linear telecasts.

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Gretchen Mol, Nightflyers

Gretchen Mol, Nightflyers

Syfy, Jonathan Hession/Syfy