Harbinger Down full movie review - "We're gonna need a bigger bucket." Sorry they made you deliver that line, Lance.
Harbinger Down meant well. Its setting, characters, and creature (and creature FX!) are inspired by John Carpenter's "The Thing," a cult classic so popular it breaches its "cult" status.
However, "Harbinger" doesn't break new ground, try anything new or clever, or establish its own personality. It's as if "Harbinger" was so in awe of John Carpenter's "The Thing" (or afraid of it, perhaps, as much of "Harbinger's" backing came from nerdy fans) that it's afraid of entering holy ground.
What this film has got going for it (apart from aping "The Thing") is its practical monster effects. Stop motion, animatronics, and distractingly obvious blue contact lenses for the woman playing "Svet" are all in use here. As most movies today overuse CGI (an error the 2011 prequel "Thing" so grievously commits) seeing animatronics in use is a CPR breath of nostalgia. And what's more, the creature effects (usually) look great.
There were parts during Harbinger where the twelve-year-old in me who still loves monsters and giant robots (thanks, Pacific Rim!) smiled, watching the plot unfold. But it was a wistful sort of smile. I was recalling the dread and pleasure felt from the heavy atmosphere and creature effects from John Carpenter's "The Thing." Harbinger Down is vastly inferior, and just makes me feel like watching that film instead.
So, what's so wrong with Harbinger Down? Try watching our female lead. It's like she's trying to juggle the task of acting while remembering a list of groceries or something. And I'm not picking on her; the rest of the cast is no better. The comic black guy (called "Dock" coz he used to sleep under one, yo) is meant to be sassy and defiant, but instead he comes off as a bad stereotype. The woman playing "Svet" is playing a stereotype as well, with her Hollywood movie Russian accent that falters from scene to scene (and here's a newsflash, filmmakers?no one from Russia actually talks like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.) The only worthwhile actor Harbinger has is horror movie veteran Lance Henriksen, and the movie has him delivering lines like "we're gonna need a bigger bucket." Yeah. Again, Lance: apologies. Why the filmmakers would have you parrot classic lines from Jaws is beyond me. Is it because many of the nostalgia-fueled backers from Harbinger's crowd funding campaign were also fans of Jaws? Or maybe the screenwriter/director was just (gasp) incompetent. Who knows.
Another of Harbinger's flaws is its music. Guys, the key to any good horror movie isn't shadows, or drunk teens shouting "Let's guh-get outta here!" It's sound. Sound and music build atmosphere, and atmosphere is why we watch horror films. Example: the Silent Hill movie used music and sound cues from the original game, recognizing its effect and character. John Carpenter, the old master himself, conducted his own music for many of his films ("The Thing" included.) The music in Harbinger could not get anymore stock. It sounds like the faux-tension music used in parody scenes in episodes of South Park. An eerie soundtrack would've blessed this dumb, ugly, golem of a movie what it needed most: a soul.
But when we aren't cringing at our actors or wincing at the music, the film's direction/cinematography robs the film's monster of much of its grandeur (even though it really is just a copy of "The Thing's" monster.) When Lance and the Asian bearded mystic (yet another of the film's stereotypes not worth mentioning) descend to the ship's bunker and first encounter the creature, the lighting and direction couldn't have made it look more like a puppet.
Which it is.
But Leatherback in Pacific Rim was all CGI, yet it was done so well that I forgot I was looking at a big pile of zeroes and ones while I was watching it. Perhaps that's Harbinger's greatest sin? it yanks the viewer out of the moment. Atmosphere is why we watch horror.
It's not all bad, however. The setting? an old trawler in the middle of a night snow storm in the Bering Sea? allows for plenty of shots of dark cabins, cramped corridors, and slippery, uncomfortable surfaces made perilous by the snow and rain. The sound of the Bering Sea continually slapping up against the Harbinger (God, "Harbinger Down" sounds like the name of a war movie? does this production's incompetence know no bounds?) helps draw the viewer in. And again, it's so great to see practical effects in a modern movie.
But if you want to see practical effects done right in a *competently* made movie, see Mad Max: Fury Road. That, and "The Thing," are examples of love, genius, and perseverance. Harbinger Down is a crowd funded, loveless mess made on a thin budget?and its strains of stress show through on every botched transition, poorly delivered/written line, and overlit scene.