Starring: Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Milla Bjorn
Written by: Alec Gillis
Directed by: Alec Gillis
When a group of students studying the effects of global warming on a pod of Orca whales pull up a crashed Soviet space capsule, they unleash something deadly upon the crew of the Harbinger, the crabbing vessel that is escorting them.
Written and directed by Alec Gillis, Harbinger Down is a return to good old fashioned practical special effects. After seeing the effects work they had worked on in films such as The Thing (2011) covered over by CGI, Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. of effects company Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI), took matters into their own hands and made this film using nothing but practical effects. There is nary a CGI shot to be seen in the film. Which can be both good and bad, as the focus of the film seems to be on the creature work, not necessarily the story or character development.
A group of college students and their professor board the Harbinger, a crabbing boat that is heading to the Bering Sea. While the crew will crab, the students are going to study the effects of global warming on a pod of Orcas they had tagged. Along the way though, through the ice, the find something unusual. Pulling it on board, though, it turns out to be an ’80’s era Soviet space capsule that had crashed and frozen over, with the cosmonaut still inside. Bringing it on board, they soon discover that there was something else in that capsule, something microscopic that can turn living organisms into hideous mutated creatures with a penchant for the death of the crew.
Harbinger Down is an interesting throwback to a time when special effects weren’t computer generated and looked somewhat cartoon-ish. Clearly taking inspiration from Alien and The Thing (1982), the film is a creature feature through and through. Using the confines of the crabbing boat and the frozen over Bering Sea to create that tension of being isolated in this ever connected world, the film stumbles a bit in creating that tension. None of the characters are ever really fleshed out enough to give their deaths that oomph needed. You are never particularly worried about them, as you know a majority are going to end up as creature fodder and the only characters who get some sort of story arc are clearly the heroes of the film.
Despite that, though, the film does feature some stunning miniature work and inspired creature effects. This is most certainly an homage to the old ’70’s and ’80’s creature features. And it does it’s job well. Gillis clearly know what the audience is looking for and gives it to us. You are allowed to actually see some of the creature work. It is not always cut away from so fast as to not let you actually get a look. He isn’t hiding their work behind quick cuts and creative editing. It is right there on the screen for you to see.
While Harbinger Down isn’t the best creature feature out there, sitting firmly between a really good Syfy Channel original and better than average straight to video offerings, it does serve it’s purpose. Which is to provide intriguing, practical special effects and a story that is a tribute to the films that inspired a majority of the ’80’s sci fi and horror films. This is a respectable film, and you should certainly check it out.
**1/2 out of ****
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