Director – Alec Gillis
Cast – Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Winston James Francis, Milla Bjorn, Giovonnie Samuels, Mick Ignis, Reid Collums, Edwin H. Bravo, Michael Estime, Jason Speer
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Lance Henriksen in a sci-fi/horror creature film? I was sold before the flick arrived On Demand. From the founders of StudioADI, the ads promised a practical effects-laden experience in the vein of Alien and The Thing, and they delivered on that promise. I went in without expectations, and was left with much more than I bargained for. With an engaging story, lots of tension, great creature action, and Lance Henriksen, fans of 80s cheese can’t go wrong with Harbinger Down.
A team of graduate students studying the effects of global warming on a pod of beluga whales have booked a crabbing ship, Harbinger, to carry them across the Berring Sea. When they come across an old Soviet space ship preserved in the snow, they bring it aboard to claim it as a salvage find. Little do they know, the Russians were experimenting with a resilient water-dwelling species whose mutations killed the crew of the space ship…and are now on board the Harbinger.
The story follows Sadie, who is the daughter of the Harbinger’s captain/owner, Graff (Henriksen). Graff runs a tight ship full of roughnecks from all backgrounds – the polar opposite of the graduate research team Sadie is bringing with her. While following the pod of whales they notice something buried within the icebergs surrounding the ship. The lights are still blinking, and after convincing Graff to bring it on board they realize it is a Soviet space craft from the 1980s. Curiosity gets the best of them, and they open it up to find the remains of cosmonauts who died sudden, grueling deaths. Little do they know, the Soviets were experimenting with tardigrades, which are water-dwelling creatures that are considered nature’s toughest animals. They were running experiments to see if the creatures could withstand space radiation, and things went haywire when they found their answer. Now the creatures are on board the ship and with every person they devour the beast gets stronger and stronger.
I loved the horror written into the story for multiple reasons. First, there is nowhere to run. They are in the middle of the Berring Sea, which is covered in ice. Even if they were to run outside the ship, or jump off of it, they would surely freeze to death before help arrives. Then comes the best element – how the characters die. The tardigrades take them over and transform them into grotesque beings, similar to the fates suffered in The Thing. I loved this because none of the deaths were the same and they all resulted in the creature growing in strength.
This horror was expertly brought to life by Alec Gillis thanks to his use of practical effects. According to the filmmakers, CGI was only used to remove wires from the props. There isn’t as much blood/guts as I expected, but you won’t even realize it thanks to the carnage the creatures leave in their wake. The first kill happens about 30 minutes in, and at the 37 minute mark we are given a full-frontal show of what is to come thanks to a shocking kill. Nobody is safe here, and I applaud the writer for constantly reminding the viewer of that as each likable character is killed in gruesome fashion.
Overall, Harbinger Down is an awesome experience for those who enjoy creature films and practical effects. If it has any major faults, you won’t notice them. You’ll be too busy enjoying what you came to see.