Today, I’m bringing you a guest post from writer Jason Wallach. I saw this awesome review of Harbinger Down on the Facebook group Horror Blu-ray Maniacs and I asked him if he would like to post a guest review on my site and he was happy to oblige. I hope you enjoy the review of Harbinger Down, a movie I haven’t seen yet, but after reading the following review, I would love to check out. Read on to see for yourself whether this movie will tickle your Sci-fi practical effects fancy or whether it should’ve been left to thaw out a little longer…
The premise of the film is that a crabbing vessel called The Harbinger sets off into the Bering Sea, the crew of which is accompanied by a group of grad students out to study the effects of global warming on a certain pod of Beluga whales. The whales are tracked to a field of icebergs wherein the remains of Soviet space wreckage are discovered. Now the Soviets were apparently experimenting with small organisms called Tardigrades which can withstand the extremities of space radiation. Now whereas the two astronauts did not survive the crash and subsequent freezing of their capsule, the Tardigrades did and lied dormant just waiting for someone to “break the ice” as it were.
With the wreckage aboard the vessel thawing out and human beings poking around in it, they become exposed to these mutating organisms. When the grad students’ professor becomes infected and turns into a human / Snork hybrid, contagious fluids are sprayed around the room and, you guessed it, INFECTION. From here the plot twists around the holes in itself in its attempt to emulate John Carpenter’s The Thing. The crew members and grad students band together to… to… well, to get eaten really! The humans are absorbed and used by the Tardigrades to make a much bigger Tardigrade. But I guess the question here is can they stop something that cannot be stopped? I’m not going to say.
I went into this film with no expectations and completely willing to judge it by its own merit. I didn’t really mind that the script (penned by director Alec Gillis) was weak or even that the cast, save for Lance Henricksen, seemed largely inexperienced. My issue with the film is the practical effects or PFX. For a film written and directed by one of the heads of Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (one of the current film industry’s great FX shops) accompanied by a Kickstarter that all-out boasted a practical fx creature feature… the creatures, while seemingly interesting, spend most of their time below deck in a dark engine room and often only partially lit by flashlight. To me, if you’re boasting a pfx creature film… show them! This is the same company that brought us the creatures in the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing called The Thing. It is downright impossible to deny the plagiarism in the creature design hearkening back to both films no matter how neat they might be. Let’s face it, the creature using the Soviet woman as a chin guard is pretty much the Blair monster from Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece!… And Leviathan.
There were a couple of good jumps and a disturbing moment or two, but the action in the film where the humans are concerned is downright geriatric. The music and tension call for climax only to serve up anti-climax again and again. In fact, the film’s ending was so anti-climactic that even after the credits stopped rolling I was still waiting for something to happen. There’s no gore in this film which I can take or leave depending upon how it fits into the story and goings on, but I was hoping for creativity. Harbinger Down could have and should have been a much better film in some way, it was screaming to go places and much like a grounded child, wasn’t allowed to. The creators had a small budget but had carte blanche and it seems like they restrained it. Much like a rabid dog on a leash though the leash just doesn’t reach far enough. The ingredients and possibilities are all there, but the execution really made this film feel like a cheap knock-off of a superior and much older film. It felt rushed in a very “hurry up and wait” sort of way if that makes any sense to you.
Did I dislike Harbinger Down? No, I did not dislike it. Would I own it? Yes, I would own it if it ever comes out on Blu-ray. Why? Because in an industry riddled with all of the same, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., Amalgamated Dynamics, cast and crew at least had the balls to make a film they wanted to make without compromise and not only does that gain my respect but my support as well. I did enjoy watching the film as it did kind of throwback to the 80’s PFX creature films and it’s always nice to see Lance Henricksen on screen. Just because I’m critiquing the film doesn’t mean I don’t have reasons to appreciate it. I give the film an E for effort and if you can relate to what I’m saying then you may find it worth giving it a watch. Is it the best creature flick I’ve ever seen? No, but it’s far from the worst!