HARBINGER DOWN (2015)
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For a movie that was a box office disappointment and savaged by critics, John Carpenter’s The Thing is still inspiring films and filmmakers over 30 years later. This sci-fi/horror pays homage by opening on the day Carpenter’s now recognized classic premiered in theaters, June 25th 1982. It also repeats a line (or two) of dialog and has a very similar plot. So much so, that this homage borders on rip-off at times.
Film opens with a Russian spacecraft, that contains an unknown specimen, crashing to Earth. Decades later, some university students are hitching a ride on the crabbing vessel Harbinger in the Bering Sea. While conducting their research, they find the wreckage of the Russian vessel from the opening scene and it’s dead cosmonaut frozen in the ice. They thaw it out and release an unknown organism that not only needs to absorb food, in this case humans, to survive, but is a shape shifter that can assume many forms. Now student and crew member alike must battle this creature that would feed on them all and possibly the rest of the world if allowed to escape…sound familiar?
Flick is written and directed by renown SPFX make-up artist Alec Gillis and shows the FX master to be out of his element when it comes to making a film around his FX creations. The script is clumsy and spends way too much time trying to pay homage to Carpenter’s classic that sometimes it forgets to be it’s own movie. There is some really bad and stale dialogue, when it’s not repeating lines from The Thing and the novice director doesn’t get much milage out of that dialogue from his cast. Aside from genre legend Lance Henriksen, we are given a crew of bland, relative unknowns. Gillis doesn’t develop much intensity or suspense and when all is said and done, doesn’t really give his monster movie much of a sense of fun either. What the SPFX team, StudioADI, does provide is plenty of monster action. The film seems very low budget, so there is nothing too extravagant, but there are quite a few incarnations of our creature whose origins do differ from the Carpenter film. StudioADI worked on the mediocre The Thing prequel and this flick seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to their work in that flick being obscured with third rate CGI…almost a do-over with practical effects being used this time around. The creature incarnations aren’t as imaginative as either Thing flick, but at least are left for us to appreciate in their practical glory. Too bad there wasn’t a better flick around them.
In conclusion, Harbinger Down is an OK movie that seems to have been made by an FX crew tired of having their work not getting appropriate screen time. That’s fine, but they should have left the scripting and directing to a more experienced filmmaker as FX man Gillis delivers a weak script and very uninspired direction. He seems so intent on showing us what we didn’t see in The Thing prequel and paying tribute to the 1982 classic, that this film borders on rip-off more than homage. There is a lot of gooey monster action, they accomplish a lot FX-wise on a small budget and it was fun to see R.J. Mac Ready’s Chess Wizard make a cameo after all these years. It’s heart is in the right place, but with more of a sense of fun, this could have been far more entertaining than it is. Also stars pretty Camille Balsamo as our heroine.
A generous 2 and 1/2 Henriksens…I have a soft spot for monster flicks like this.