Harbinger Down (2015) Review
Written & Directed by Alec Gillis
Starring Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Giovonnie Samuels,
Reid Collums, Matt Winston, Michael Estime, Milla Bjorn, Jason Speer,
Mick Ignis and Winston James Francis
“A group of grad students have booked passage on the fishing trawler Harbinger to study the effects of global warming on a pod of Orcas in the Bering Sea. When the ship’s crew dredges up a recently thawed piece of old Soviet space wreckage, things get downright deadly. It seems that the Russians experimented with tardigrades, tiny resilient animals able to withstand the extremes of space radiation. The creatures survived, but not without mutation. Now the crew is exposed to aggressively mutating organisms. And after being locked in ice for 3 decades, the creatures aren’t about to give up the warmth of human companionship.”
June 25th 1982, Arctic Circle. (1982? Is this a sequel to The Thing!?) A Soviet spacecraft with one passenger on board hurtles towards the earth. Cut to now - Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (Hang on, is this a found footage movie? It didn't look like on in the trailer. What's the deal with the stupid FF shakycam!?) Anyway, 3 people getting ready to go on a trip while one of them films it. For a minute there I thought either Michael J Fox was holding the camera or else this was gonna be another shitty found footage movie, thankfully as soon as they board the ship the found footage style crap stops. So Sadie and Ronelle are students (marine biology, I assume) who along with their professor Stephen (Matt Winston - son of FX genius Stan Winston) they are studying whales so they hitch a ride on the Harbinger, a crabbing ship captained by Graff (Lance Henriksen) who happens to be Sadie's grandfather. So after a while and the whole "introduce the audience to the crew who are a typical bunch of misfits" routine, their satellite picks up an object frozen in ice which is attracting the whales. They net it and bring it on board to investigate it -
an oh too familiar scenario that never ends well...
Surprise surprise it's the Soviet spacecraft, finally found after being frozen in ice for over 30 years. Professor Douchebag throws a hissy fit because he thinks the spacecraft is a valuable discovery and he wants to claim it for himself, even though it was Sadie who first spotted it on the satellite so according to maritime law all credit should go to her. Meanwhile back at the spacecraft, a blob of black slimy scary crap that slithers and slides and sprouts tentacles has seeped out of it and begins making its' way around the ship taking people out one by one.(Spoiler Alert!) Professor Douchebag gets infected, overheats and has a different kind of fit. As the rest of the crew try to save him he mutates 'Norris' style and dies, cue the theory that everyone on the ship has been exposed so anyone could be infected, followed by
mass hysteria, paranoia and panic.
Is it just me or is it the older Lance Henriksen gets the more he looks like Tobin Bell? No, ok then.
Anyway, Henriksen is one of my favorite character actors. He's been in a lot of classics of the years - Aliens, Terminator, Near Dark, Pumpkinhead and the epic tv show Millennium to name a few. Admittedly he's been in a few stinkers over the years as well but he's one of those actors that has such a presence and charisma about them that they can make even the shittiest films somewhat enjoyable. Thankfully Harbinger Down isn't one of the shitty ones, actually it's probably Henriksen's best film in years. Written and directed by Alec Gillis and produced by Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. who both own fx company ADI (Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc) This was Gillis' first time directing a feature but he has had years and years of experience in the movie industry as a special effects artist, practical not shitty cgi. A student of Stan Winston, Gillis has worked on some classics over the years such as Battle Beyond The Stars, Galaxy Of Terror, Aliens, The Monster Squad, Alien Nation, Leviathan, Tremors, Wolf and Starship Troopers to name a few. He also did the practical creature fx for the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing, before the filmmakers ruined it and replaced them with cgi.
Harbinger Down boasts about featuring only practical, animatronic and make-up effects, and in a time where Stan Winston is no longer with us, Rob Bottin is gone AWOL and Rick Baker has retired - it bloody well should boast about having only practical fx! That being said the effects are definitely the high point and the main attraction of the film. The setting is great, it gives an ice cold claustrophobic and tense feel to the whole film from beginning to end. It's easy to criticize the script and direction for not being as good as they should've been but since this is Alec Gillis' first film I think people should chill, give the guy a little leeway and give credit where credit is due. It may not be a masterpiece but it reeks of atmosphere and is put together really well, well enough for any easy going horror fan to enjoy anyway. It's clear that Gillis is a big fan of Alien and Carpenter's The Thing as this film has a nice mixture of both. It even has a little nod to Jaws -"We're gonna need a bigger bucket". Yes this might be a first time director's movie but don't let that put you off, it's an enjoyable popcorn flick that oozes 'Corman-ism'.