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“HARBINGER DOWN” (Film Review)

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For a critic who primarily reviews within the horror genre, giving a completely unbiased review to a project such as HARBINGER DOWN is almost impossible. Given the film’s publicized Kickstarter, promotional materials presenting itself as a “practical effects film” and the heartbreaking saga of Studio ADI’s work on THE THING, HARBINGER DOWN has been a film fright fans have been rooting for since day one. And while any horror fan should be excited when one of the industries top FX masterminds is given free reign to do an old school monster movie, that same sense anticipation can be a double edged sword, and HARBINGER DOWN unfortunately falls into that category.

Does that make HARBINGER DOWN a bad movie? No; actually, there’s much to admire in Alec Gillis’ directorial debut, especially all the ambition behind every decision on display. However, HARBINGER DOWN suffers from a pair of problems that keep the film from becoming the movie it so desperately wants to be: a disappointing script and a potentially disappointing bit of misrepresentation. While the creation and designs of the monsters in HARBINGER DOWN may be all real, there are many effects in HARBINGER DOWN that appear to be massaged with CGI (although the filmmakers adamantly argue against such notion), and the practical effects that are shown in the film are often largely covered in shadow.

When the practical effects do hit the screen, however, HARBINGER DOWN does show potential for a damn great and imaginative horror film, with one particular background reveal creepy enough to rival the sci-fi horror flicks that inspired it. However, if the film really did not use CGI, there are moments in the execution that look glossy or ramped up in a way that it might look as if it were the work of CGI, and if the use of CGI would be considered harmful, crafting FX that can’t be distinctly enjoyed for being a real creation is almost even more disappointing. Furthermore, it also doesn’t fix the campy and by-the-numbers screenplay from Gillis, featuring inane plot twists, logic-defying dialogue and not-so-subtle homages to THE THING and ALIEN. But the few moments of Studio ADI’s practical work in all of its glory does buy the film some goodwill and reminds the audience to maybe not take a creature feature so seriously after all.

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As a director, Alec Gillis’ good intentions are all over HARBINGER DOWN, and considering the miniscule budget he was working with, HARBINGER DOWN is quite a feat considering the impressive production design, capable performances and practical creature construction. But Gillis’ choices feel standard and rushed, lacking the punch needed to really evoke either a self-aware sci-fi horror atmosphere or grip the audience with sheer terror. Likewise, Benjamin Brown’s intentions to make a moody monster movie also heavily affect his choices as cinematographer and editor, even if they come at the cost of the film’s overall well-being.

HARBINGER DOWN’s cast, however, gives the disappointing script their absolute all, which often helps to keep the audience above water. Camille Balsamo and Reid Collums are pretty great as our ostensible leads, bringing a tragic sense of desperation and dimension to otherwise underwritten protagonists. Meanwhile, Milla Bjorn, Giovonnie Samuels and Winston James Francis hold their own among the material, especially Bjorn until her character arc descends into the absurd. And, of course, Lance Henriksen does what Lance Henriksen does best as the gruff captain of the titular ship, and appears to be having a blast chewing up the scenery and cursing up a storm.

Overall, while not the practical effects home run the film certainly should have been, HARBINGER DOWN is a decent exercise in sci-fi horror that is far from terrible but a disappointment nonetheless. HARBINGER DOWN had all the pieces to make something truly memorable and send horror fans back to a time when in-camera FX grabbed our eyes and minds. But without a script rewrite or a wholly original visual style, HARBINGER DOWN settles for average results, and average should never register for a monster movie, especially when Studio ADI can deliver so much monster goodness on an independent scale with Tom Woodruff Jr.’s FIRE CITY. However, this writer’s experience with HARBINGER DOWN also came with staggering expectations; perhaps fright fans walking in with lower expectations might be more easily sucked in by the film’s monstrous mayhem.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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