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    Harbinger Down (2015): Movie Review

    A frigid old-school men-versus-predator feature.

    In an age where CGI is a trend in special effects, it is quite refreshing to see films which rely on animatronics, extensive make-ups and practical effects to bring out the necessary chill and tension. In the business of creating topnotch special effects, Alec Gillis is one of the experts. After working on the practical effects for movies like Starship Troopers (1997) and Alien vs. Predator (2004), Gillis finally sits on the director’s chair to write and direct his own story. With 80’s-themed vibe and paying homage to great suspense flicks during the era, Gilli’s directorial debut called Harbinger Down is a battle between a fishing trawler crew versus extraterrestrial parasites on the frigid waters of Arctic.

    Lead by Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen), crabbing ship Harbinger sails off to Bering Sea. It is not a usual voyage because aside from its crew, other passengers are also aboard the ship. The trio of pretty brunette Sadie (Camille Balsamo), her fellow University student Ronelle (Giovonnie Samuels) and Prof. Stephen (Matt Winston) are out to study the effects of global warming on Orca whales.

    During their investigation, Sadie finds a gigantic unidentified object floating on the sea among the icebergs. The object turns out to be a space capsule containing a former Russian astronaut (which crash landed on the sea in 1982 as shown in the introduction). A rift develops between them as Prof. Stephen demands Sadie to hand over her salvage rights to him and to the University. Mischievously, Sadie sneaks through the night and takes samples from the frozen corpse.

    Unfortunately, Sadie also liberates the alien form contained in the body. Able to change shape from liquid to solid and vice versa, the slimy alien grows to possess tentacles and sharp teeth. Using human victims as hosts, the predator reaches deep into the ship and gradually attacks the crew. Worse, a blonde Russian cover agent (Milla Bjorn) is unmasked amidst all the drama. As the crew’s liquid nitrogen supply for freezing their catch and the alien runs out, the ship also crashes into a cold ending. 

    Harbinger Down is a cheap version of the classic hits The Thing (1982) and Alien (1979). Similar to its inspirations, it is dark and claustrophobic, involving people trapped in a space with a predator. Aside from its well-detailed location, the present movie has relatively impressive practical effects. Despite its low budget and less dependence on CGI, the film has abundance of frights and squeaks with its creepy monster, gore and blood. Such work requires labor and diligence and director Gillis succeeds in doing a decent job with fine results.

    However, other aspects of the movie suffer terribly. The narrative is quite flawed and execution is chaotic. During one sequence when the alien suddenly attacks the group, the camera shifts between different points of view, showing different faces in split seconds. In this disorder, it is confusing which female character gets sucked into the pipe. Much worse, the scene and others like it lack the required suspense, possibly because of its blurry cinematography or its found footage/ shaky cam style. Such forms of implementation sullies the moments, killing tension in the process and producing a cheerless effect.

    Some twists in the plot also do not gel well, particularly involving the revelation about the Russian agent. It is not convincing due to poor logic and it feels like it was only added in the film to hype up the tension. As much as there is lack of sincerity and interest in the story, there also appears zero chemistry among the characters. With only a single quality or two to describe them, they lack personality and charm to care for them. As a result, we are not bothered as to who gets eaten or not, or whether they all die or not in the end. The lazy dialogues and bad acting of the cast do not help either.

    Gillis is a genius when it comes to practical effects. With the film’s defective plot and sullied execution, Harbinger Down simply feels like Gillis’ outlet to show off his talents.


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