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Harbinger Down (Film) Review


At A Glance...

Genre: ,
Length: 120mins
Release Date: Aug 2015
Story Line: A fishing boat of students and crew stumble across a murdering, shape-shifting, alien bacteria
Final Score
2/ 5

User Rating
2 total ratings


We liked?

Set design, 80s-style practical special effects and Lance Henriksen

Not so much?

Poor acting, terrible dialogue, nonsensical story and zero personal identity

Final Fiendish Findings?

An attempt to honour the ‘good old days’ of practical special effects from the ’80s that neglects every other element of filmmaking. Ever.

Posted August 19, 2015 by

Full Fiendish Findings?

When the Kickstarter campaign for Alec Gillis’s Harbinger Down began, the film was advertised as being a monster horror film, “in the spirit of the two greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time, Alien and The Thing.” Having just watched the film (reported the most successful Kickstarter sci-fi/horror project in history) it’s evident Gillis referred to ‘in the spirit’ the same way every film student has made something ‘in the spirit’ of Reservoir Dogs: ripping it off shamelessly with more aspirational lust than respect for the original.

The $384k film takes place on a fishing trawler (the size of which is left ambiguous until literally the final scene) where some students and their professor join the crew to search for Orcas, but stumble across a Russian shuttle with a deadly virus MacGuffin. The shape-shifting creature kills mercilessly ­­– except for the times it doesn’t – and the only weapon the crew have against it is liquid nitrogen. Aside from an underwhelming and fairly inconsequential third act plot twist, that’s everything you need to know.

Gillis – founder of special effects company StudioADI – makes very little effort in on-set direction or characterisation. The lead actor seems to be channeling Bella from Twilight and none of the characters seem the least bit interested in whether they live or die. One character I only realised was supposed to be important to the protagonist because she yelled ‘Nooo’ when they were impaled. Lance Henriksen (Aliens) holds the film together as best he can, considering the plot holes he’s spelunking around.

In the film’s defence, the production is technically OK. Gillis took cues from Alien by restricting the use of music, although forgot to compensate with Foley and tense pacing. Aside from the art department, it feels lazy: Reworded existing catchphrases (“We’re gonna need a bigger bucket”) and existing scenes painted with new skin (imagine Ripley in a ship with an alien, but with an ICE gun instead of flamethrower!).

Obviously, special effects were the only purpose anyone wanted to work on this project. You could take Aristotle’s Function Argument and claim they achieved what they set out to do: They made a film that looks ‘OK’ for the budget, using animatronics as a homage to 80s horror movies. There is certainly space in cinema for practical special effects instead of CGI, but be careful when collaging your favourite films to fill your content. Before you can start paying homage them, you need to create an identity of your own.

Fin Carew



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