I accidentally stumbled across Harbinger Down while killing time on the world wide webs, just a couple of days before its release. Needless to say I spent the next few days in a state of feverish anticipation. Harbinger Down is a direct reaction to Amalgamated Dynamics amazing practical creature work for the The Thing (2011) being replaced in post production with CGI, a move that seriously weakened that movie. So Amalgamated Dynamics went to crowd sourcing to partially fund Harbinger Down, a film that promised that only practical creature effects would be used and it has Lance Henriksen to boot. Two things I feel are welcome in any horror film. But did it live up to my expectations, yes and no, though mostly yes.
The film follows a group of grad students studying whale migration lead by Sadie (Camille Balsamo), a graduate student and supervised by her professor Stephen (Matt Winston). The boat being used for the study is a crabbing vessel named Harbinger, owned and captained by Sadie’s father Graff (Lance Hendriksen). While tracking the whales Sadie discovers them around a blinking light frozen in the ice. Sadie gets Graff to haul it on board and after cutting it out of the ice discover that it’s a Russian spacecraft that crashed during the cold war. A huge discovery… apparently. The discovery quickly leads to tension as ownership and salvage rights come into dispute. Sadie unable to curb her curiosity asks Svet (Milla Bjorn) who just so happens to be Russian, to help her investigate the damaged vessel. Sadie opens up the sealed space suit and find the astronaut still inside and frozen, she also notices strange marks on his skin and cut out a sample. Sadie then runs the tissue through a Mcguffin with Ronelle (Giovonnie Samuels), her friend and fellow student. The Mcguffin reveals that the astronaut’s flesh is infected with hundreds of creatures, water-bears and that they have been changed. Now containing bits of genetic code from hundreds of creatures, the genetic information traveling along the ocean currents. Stephen checks on the ship and notices that it’s been tampered with and confronts Sadie. Stephen uses the breach of protocol to force Sadie to surrender her salvage rights to him, with the threat of ruining her career otherwise by exposing the crew to who knows what. Stephen has the crew go down to wrap up the ship to prevent further tampering and discover the astronaut is now missing. Things get more intense as Stephen starts getting sicker and sicker, eventually transforming and spraying the crew with a strange liquid before being reduced to just a skin sack. This is where the film gets interesting as this when the creature shows up, attacking and killing the crew one by one, either transforming them or consuming them outright. Now not knowing who’s infected, trapped in a storm, while being hunted by a constantly changing monster the crew must fight to survive…
I’ve noticed a less than favorable consensus about Harbinger Down, mostly in that it borrows too heavily from other films like John Carpenters The Thing and Alien. My thoughts on this is, wasn’t that sort of the point? A return to form for the creature feature, while at the same time having great practical effects. Because that’s what I was expecting and that’s exactly what I got, something that doesn’t happen all that often and furthermore there are far worse films to borrow from.
Personally, I really enjoyed this movie. Admittedly the story is a little bland, but I didn’t come for the story, I came for the monster. Which I freaking loved, I love how it was always shifting and adapting to find ways to kill… well everyone. It doesn’t even have to kill you, just wound you, spit on you, or do anything that will infect you. I like the liquid nitrogen for hunting and killing the creature, as it’s a fun twist on the flamethrower from The Thing. But the creature effects are stunning and you can really see the amount time and effort went into making it.
I also really enjoyed the casting, with some actors standing out to me more than Lance Henriksen. Winston James Francis does an amazing job as Big G and is by far my favorite character in the film being unbearably likable. I also really liked Milla Bjorn, who took and incredibly stereotypical role of Svet an made it work for me. It might be my soft spot for Bad Ass Chicks, that makes me like the character so much, but I don’t think so. Lastly Matt Winston’s, Stephen is the perfect Asshole Victim as I felt a when he goes I almost cheered. Over half of his scenes ended with me wanting to sock him square in the mouth.
Final thoughts, yes the plot is generic, but if you’re willing to look past that, Harbinger Down is incredibly worth your time. Hell, Harbinger Down is worth seeing on the merit of having exclusively practical creature effects makes it worth seeing at least once. Lance Herikson performance gives more than he was given, while Camille Balsamo comes off so incredibly bland it almost balances Herikson, Almost. Seriously though, if you’re a fan of practical effects or monster films Harbinger Down is worth seeing. 9/10