A quick glance at Netflix will confirm that there are more horror films made each year than just about any other genre. Nowadays they’re cheap to produce, require actors who can scream and not much else, and all crib from each others storylines. Easy, fast. But how often are they actually worth watching?
Into this derivative genre comes a new sci-fi/horror film that’s a throwback to an earlier era in cinema with models, prosthetics and animatronics replacing computer effects, ‘Harbinger Down.’ Yes it uses plenty of tropes from earlier genre films, but there’s something about a classic monster film…
The film takes place on the crabbing ship Harbinger, in the frozen far north of the Bering Sea. It’s crewed by a rough band of misfits and hosting a group of graduate students doing research on Orca migration patterns when it recovers wreckage from a secret Soviet space mission. With a dead cosmonaut inside. And the creature that killed it.
The ship is captained by scroungy old sea dog Graff (Lance Henriksen) and the group of grad students is led by his granddaughter Sadie (Camille Balsamo), though the senior researcher on the ship is Stephen (Matt Winston). The crew includes hulking “Big G” (Winston James Francis) and the svelt Russian with an anger management issue Svet (Milla Bjorn).
The real star of the movie is the shape-shifting tentacled creature that at times looks like something out of ‘Alien,’ other times like the titular creature from ‘The Blob’ and by the final climactic scenes like a really angry Portuguese man o’ war. And unlike almost every modern sci-fi or horror film, the creature isn’t made out of bits and bytes but actual animatronics, models and physical effects.
Don’t expect anything amazing in the genre, however. ‘Harbinger Down’ is a fun retro sci-fi/horror film in the spirit of ‘The Thing,’ with a bit of ‘Alien’ and ‘The Blob‘ thrown in for good effect but there’s nothing really stand-out about the movie, and not much story that hasn’t been shown on screen before.
Nonetheless, it’s the simplicity of the dark, oppressive ship trapped in the icy waters of the Bering Sea, the crew having to figure out what’s attacking them and how to defend themselves even as it keeps changing shape and circumventing their traps that makes this a fun film to watch.
In an age of computer-overlaid and computer synthesized special effects that can make up half the running time and 90% of the budget of a major release, the Kickstarter-funded ‘Harbinger Down’ is a throwback to an earlier era of movies with no CG at all. And it’s fun. What else can you ask for?