“This is a portable molecular analyzer. Place the sample in this cartridge and it could tell you everything… from what species it is… and whether or not if it has a cold or cancer.
Hey, Bowman, I wonder if that thing can analyze a fart.
Okay, leave now, cavemen. Go wrestle sharks or whatever you do.”
Can you remember that spider-like, slimy creature with a deformed head attached to it from “The Thing”? Or when John Hurt’s belly bursts open in “Alien” and a bloody alien pops out of it? Both films were made in the 80s. An era when there was fairly limited use of computer animations in films. The special effects were usually achieved by using stop-motion techniques, makeup and miniatures. “Harbinger down” is an ode to these techniques (PFX) which are still being used by the film studio ADI (also in the remake of “The Thing” in 2011). So it’s a mixture of “The Thing” and “Alien” with an alien organism that has nestled itself in the body of a Russian cosmonaut who’s been frozen in the polar ice already for many years now.
Personally, I always had a boundless admiration for the creators of SEs and make-up at that time. This was the period of a rampant VHS / Betamax market. I can remember me, as a film lover and not owning a video player, going to the local video store and returning home with a plastic case, with a VHS player, and five videotapes. Films full of exploding heads like in “Scanners” for instance or decaying body parts like in “The Fly”. And now a renowned company comes up with a self-produced film of which they say that they only made use of these ancient techniques. That caused a momentary excitement. Unfortunately there’s very little to see of these techniques. Either the creature appears in the dark which made it rather difficult to see. Either it moved so quickly.
Despite its high nostalgic value, the end result is somewhat disappointing. Besides the striking resemblance with classics from the 80’s, there is also the sometimes appalling act. The stereotypical circumstances aren’t very original. Again it takes place in a polar region. This time it all happens aboard a crab boat. Yet again a location where an escape is impossible. Obviously, there’s someone whose priorities are at least somewhat debatable. The moment hell breaks loose, the systematic elimination of crew members begins.
I don’t doubt the craftsmanship of Alec Gillis as creator of grotesque, slimy monsters. But directing is a job he clearly hasn’t mastered yet. First of all there’s a total lack of tension. There isn’t a single moment that grabs you by the throat. You look at it in an apathetic way and patiently wait for the denouement. Even the main topic of the film is a great disappointment. The organism looks artificial, plastic, fake and is far from fearsome. It’s just a considerable over-sized octopus that changes shape and moves around the boat quite easily. But you won’t get the chills from it.
The good intentions are clearly present, but then again the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The finishing touch remains weak. Maybe it was initially intended to create a movie similar to “The Thing”. At first the remake of 2011 solely consisted of techniques used by ADI. However, these were excluded from the final film. So perhaps this is a raised middle finger towards the makers of that remake. This doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s still an extremely poor movie. However there are still two positive facts I should mention. The way the alien transfigures, wasn’t such a bad idea after all. And Lance “Bishop” Henriksen plays a rock solid role as the stubborn and steadfast captain Graff. But ultimately it was still too meager. They could have neglected that Soviet rubbish and focus on those white whales. That would have been equally exciting.