This film, in part, was a response to the 2011 Thing prequel.In early interviews, (Harbinger Down Director) Alec Gillis had emphasized that it was going to be a mostly practical film. Even the special features show an awful lot of practical work in the behind the scenes. The studio “had a change of heart” and decided the film should favor digital over practical.
There is a place for the tool of digital. But the avoidance of practical hurts film. Alec Gillis, coming from an award winning practical effects background, knows this well.
Harbinger Down was a film made in part to showcase practical effects. It is for lovers of monster movies.
It tells the tale of Sadie, a student studying climate change effects on Beluga Whales who brings her professor and fellow student on her grandfather’s crabbing boat the Harbinger. They discover an old soviet ship in the ice and once on board, horror based mayhem ensues.
Evoking memories of John Carpenter’s the Thing (right at the beginning there is an easter egg for those of us who love the Thing) and the films of the Alien franchise, Gillis clearly set out to make a classic monster movie. Using the familiar elements of people trapped in a remote location facing a scary unknown, Gillis charges forward.
The film has great practical effects driving the action and scares. The monster is lifelike and gruesome. but it is not enough to have cool effects. If the cast cannot hold up their end, a film will fall apart. Luckily, Gillis has a terrific cast. The characters feels defined and are entertaining. Especially likable is Winston James Francis as Big G. Star Lance Henrikson is great in the role of gruff but decent Graff (captain of the ship and Sadie’s grandfather).
The film has moments of humor that allow us to get to know the characters before it all falls apart on them. The cast makes the most of their roles, whether large or small.
Harbinger Down is a solid monster movie, one that pays tribute to the great monster movies of the early 80’s. It deserves a watch by lovers of monster movies and practical visual effects.