Number Rolled: 37
Movie Name/Year: Harbinger Down (2015)
Tagline: Terror is just beneath the surface.
Length: 81 minutes
Production Companies: Dark Dunes Productions, Studio ADI
Producer: Camille Balsamo, Benjamin L. Brown, Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, Kelli Kaye, Alexander Preston, Hadeel Reda, Doug Scroggins III, Jason Speer, Paul Stewart, Jennifer Tung, Tom Woodruff Jr.
Director: Alec Gillis
Writer: Alec Gillis
Actors: Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Reid Collums, Winston James Francis, Milla Bjorn, Giovonnie Samuels, Michael Estime, Edwin H. Bravo, Kraig W. Sturtz, Jason Speer, Mick Ignis
Blurb from Netflix: Studying the effects of global warming aboard a fishing trawler, graduate students dredge up Soviet space wreckage that contains deadly organisms.
Selina’s Point of View:
For some odd reason I had it in my head that this was a war movie, not a creature feature. I really need to start reading descriptions – or at least looking at the movie poster – before I hit the play button.
I find it almost odd to be calling this film a ‘creature feature’ considering the kind of creature they used. There were no wolves, no sharks, and no zombie penguins. The creature they used is called a ‘water bear.’
Don’t start fantasizing about a swimming grizzly or anything, that’s as far from what this animal is as possible. Also known as a tardigrade, water bears are known for being able to survive extreme environments, including outer space. I don’t mean it can just survive inside the rocket, either. It can survive attached to the outside of it and dealing with the radiated, airless, cold vacuum of space.
Their adaptability might be terrifying, if they weren’t microscopic.
That’s right, the image you see above is a water bear magnified by hundreds.
Not only did this film use an animal I’ve never even seen referenced in movies, but they used a microscopic animal without turning it into some kind of outbreak film… and they did it successfully.
Although there was a minor reminder of the core story of The Thing (1982), it wasn’t stealing the plot. It was like Harbinger Down paid homage to it. With the catchy one liners and quotes from old popular movies, such as Jaws (1975), the film paid homage to a lot of works that came before it while still remaining an original and interesting film.
Keep in mind, Harbinger Down was a low-budget B-Movie. Many of the scenes were visually remarkable for the amount of money they had to spend, but there were at least three scenes I can think of off the top of my head that looked like someone was trying to film their TV. So, no, the film was not perfect. It was, however, as close as I believe a B-Movie can get (aside from Clerks ).
The actors were very good. Especially for a B-Movie. The film featured interesting characters that were played well, including two very strong female parts. I like to see that.
There was a touch of cheese in the script and graphics, but writer/director Alec Gillis (Alien Nation, Astronaut: The Last Push, Hunter Prey) really made that cheese work. He used the visuals to bring up memories of movies like Alien (1979) and Tremors (1990), which made the cheese and camp seem much better than it was because of the nostalgia factor.
It makes sense since Gillis worked special effects on Tremors, as well as Aliens (1986) and Jaws 3-D (1983).
Sometimes having a lower budget allows movies creators to really bring the creativity. In this film that creativity took what could have been a mediocre semi-creature feature to a new height.
I know it wasn’t received well by critics or Rotten Tomatoes. I would say I care, but it’d be a lie. I thought, for what it was, this movie was incredible. I enjoyed watching it and would watch it again. I already have friends in mind that I’ll be recommending it to.
I think this is more a case of people expecting A-list content and CGI from a B-movie than about people actually disliking the content altogether… and that’s not fair. This movie was funded by Kickstarter, and I think the people who invested did the right thing.
Cat’s Point of View:
Finally a creature feature that I enjoyed!
The fact that Lance Henrickson (The Lost Tribe, Phantom, Stung) was involved with the project was a selling point for me. He won my heart in the Alien (1979) franchise and I generally find that I enjoy things he has worked on.
This movie finds him as a boat captain rather than a cyborg or nefarious corporate executive. I appreciated the personal sub-plot involving him; as I felt it brought a bit more depth to the film.
Do I think that this movie was on par with Aliens (1986)? Not exactly. It was entertaining, though.
The performances of the crew members weren’t shabby. The cast aside from Henrickson are pretty new to Hollywood. There wasn’t anyone that I’d scream praise from the rooftops for, but the performances for most of them were solid.
This was the motion picture directorial debut for writer/director Alec Gillis (AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Blind Passion, Mattress of Solitude). I really hope that he continues to do some more storytelling.
He’s usually involved with special effects. In fact, he was the Creature Effects Coordinator for Aliens.
There are a few fun facts about this film. The company Gillis was involved with, Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI), was slated to work on the remake of The Thing (2011) with practical creature effects. The production team decided to go with CGI, instead, so their effects weren’t used.
Apparently in response to the increasing usage of computer graphics rather than practical real VFX, the team at ADI launched a Kickstarter campaign on May 8, 2013 for Harbinger Down. It was pitched as: “A sci-fi/horror film by Creature FX Designer Alec Gillis, that will celebrate Animatronics and Makeup FX . Help keep FX real!” The creature effects in this movie used zero CGI in favor of practical effects such as stop motion, animatronics, prosthetic makeup, & miniatures.
Last but not the least bit of trivia is that there are tons of Easter eggs in the movie that reference both Aliens and The Thing (1982). Happy hunting!
All in all, this was a good critter movie that I could wrap myself around. I would recommend this film to fans of the genre, especially vintage quality creature features.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 50%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 18%
Netflix’s Prediction for Selina – 2.5/5
Selina’s Trust-the-Dice Score – 4/5
Netflix’s Prediction for Cat – 1.5/5
Cat’s Trust-the-Dice Score – 3.5/5