31 Days of Horror: Film #10 HARBINGER DOWN
I was really hoping to like this one. Harbinger Down was created with the mission of showcasing practical, old-school special effects. The movie was made by experts of the craft, with director Alec Gillis having previous experience working on films like Aliens, Tremors, and Wolf. The special effects team behind Harbinger Down was hired to handle the monster effects of 2011’s The Thing prequel, but almost all of their work was replaced by CGI effects, which understandably upset both fans and the effects masters themselves. Harbinger Down was filmed as an artistic response to this, where the filmmakers would make a monster movie using practical effects, stop-motion, and makeup. While I’ve come to terms with CGI’s use in modern movies, I still prefer movies to use practical effects and makeup whenever possible. Not only is it cool and classic, but in terms of horror movies, there’s some added benefit in the fact that the viewer KNOWS that the creature is THERE, in frame, among the actors. CGI can accomplish wondrous things, but some part of my mind is usually still aware when the creation isn’t really there.
So yes, I wanted to like this movie, because not only do I dig monster movies, but I believe in the mission here. Sadly, just like a movie dominated with CGI, Harbinger Down is an example of how cool special effects are not enough to make a movie successful.
Harbinger Down is like The Thing meets Deadliest Catch. Crab fishermen and scientists pull up a frozen Russian astronaut from the deep who’s been lost since the Cold War. The cosmonaut is not alone in his spacecraft. A shapeshifting creature not unlike The Thing’s thing gets loose on the ship, killing the crew one by one.
The monster effects are great and there are a few good scenes, but unfortunately the script sucks. And with the exception of Lance Henriksen, the acting isn’t any good at all. Harbinger Down likes making nods to the great films that inspired it, but this gets old, and soon begins to welcome comparisons to other, better movies. The film is brief at about 80 minutes but it feels like it takes forever until the monster shows up. When the creature does finally show up, I was generally rooting for it to kill almost all of the characters, which I doubt was the film’s intention.
While Harbinger Down fails to excite, it does prove that there’s obviously still a use for these special effects in movies today. One hopes that the special effects gang behind the film gets a better script next time, because that ultimately is what makes a movie go. This one’s disappointing but monster movie fans may still get some enjoyment out of it. Just keep expectations in check.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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