×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Harbinger Down’

Fans of '80s sci-fi/horror pics may get their kicks with this retro thriller about extraterrestrial parasites.

With:
Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Reid Collums, Milla Bjorn, Winston James Francis, Mike Estime, Edwin Bravo, Giovonnie Samuels.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3397918/

Made by and for aficionados of ’80s-era sci-fi/horror thrillers, “Harbinger Down” ranks somewhere between self-consciously cheesy SyFy Channel fare and better-than-average direct-to-video product in terms of production values, performance levels and overall ability to sustain interest while generating suspense. Theatrical exposure will be fleeting, but this small-budget, high-concept trifle could attract home-screen traffic if favorable word of mouth is sparked by the enthusiasm of genre-friendly websites and bloggers.

Many au courant creature-feature devotees already are aware of this B-movie’s backstory: Writer-director Alec Gillis raised initial funding through a Kickstarter campaign by promising fans an old school opus with an absolute minimum of CGI, and an abundance of animatronics and practical effects. “Harbinger Down” delivers on that promise, more or less, and the quaintly retro look and feel of the film doubtless will elicit knowing smiles from many nostalgic viewers. And mainstream audiences? Well, the more cinema-savvy may be amused by the industriousness of filmmakers who appear to be working on a shoestring budget as frayed as any allotted to a Roger Corman-produced New World release of yesteryear.

The plot, which owes much to “Alien,” John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and dozens of knockoffs spawned by both, pivots on the discovery of a downed Russian spacecraft in the Arctic wilds by researchers tracking whale migrations while aboard a fishing vessel christened Harbinger. Graff (Lance Henriksen), the grizzled sea dog who captains the good ship Harbinger, allows his granddaughter Sadie (Camille Balsamo), one of the researchers, to store the retrieved spacecraft, and the frozen cosmonaut corpse inside it, in the ship’s hold.

Unfortunately — yes, you guessed it — the corpse contains some nasty surprises. Specifically, long-dormant extraterrestrial parasites who are very mean, very hungry, and ruthless capable of transforming their hosts (i.e., human bodies) into sharp-toothed and gruesomely icky blobs of multi-tentacled slime.

After about a half-hour or so of portentous exposition and sketchy character development, Gillis gets down to the serious business of gradually elevating the body count. Sometimes, the unfortunate victims end up looking like figures in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Little wonder, then, that one character with an especially itchy trigger finger is ready to aim a flare gun at anyone displaying telltale symptoms of infection.

Amid a motley crew of stock characters — the Boisterous Giant (Winston James Francis), the Doomed Black Dude (Mike Estime), the Badass Babe (Milla Bjorn), the Doomed Black Dudette (Giovonnie Samuels), the Supercilious Jerk, aka Victim No. 1 (Matt Winston) — Henriksen stands out by dint of his raspy authority and effortless professionalism. Whether he’s issuing threats (“You pull a knife on my ship, I’ll gut you with it!”) or sounding grandfatherly (“Don’t let fear hold you down!”), he gives the movie much more than it ever gives him.

Gillis keeps “Harbinger Down” moving at a satisfyingly brisk clip, and sprinkles amid the workmanlike dialogue a few mildly clever lines that indicate he has seen the same movies you have. At one point, a supporting player fortuitously discovers that liquid nitrogen can incapacitate the marauding creatures. But when larger doses of the stuff prove necessary, someone duly notes: “We’re going to need a bigger bucket.”

Special effects by Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Robert Skotak are efficient, if not terribly inspired, and the scenes in which they are employed tend to strike loud echoes of classic moments in better films. Indeed, “Harbinger Down” is more effectively spooky during those stretches when Gillis simply allows lenser Benjamin L. Brown to glide his premonitory camera down dimly lit hallways and across chilly cabins, following characters hellbent on violent demises.

Film Review: 'Harbinger Down'

Reviewed online, Houston, Aug. 6, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Studio ADI Gillis/Woodruff production in association with Dark Dunes Prods. Produced by Benjamin L. Brown, J. Douglas Scoggins III, Jennifer Tung, Tom Woodruff Jr., Alec Gillis. Executive producers, Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki, Hadel Reda, Jason Speer, Paul Stewart.

Crew: Directed, written by Alec Gillis. Camera (color), Benjamin L. Brown; editor, Brown; music, Christopher Drake; production designer, Kyle M. Wilson; art director, Spencer Brennan; set designer, Calder Greenwood; sound, Oddio Works; sound editor/sound designer, Brown; visual effects supervisor, Robert Skotak; practical creature effects, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr.; associate producers, Johnny Leftwich, Darwa Peterson, Alexander Preston; assistant director, Sazzy Calhoun-Grandquist; casting, Joey Paul Jensen, Niner Parikh.

With: Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Reid Collums, Milla Bjorn, Winston James Francis, Mike Estime, Edwin Bravo, Giovonnie Samuels.

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content