In 2010, Amalgamated Dynamics were hired to create the practical special effects for the 2011 “The Thing” prequel. Before the film was released, however, the majority of the effects work was digitally replaced in post-production by CGI. Amalgamated Dynamics were apparently pretty upset about it – it wasn’t the first film they’d been involved in where their work was replaced before release – and eventually, they set up a Kickstarter campaign to produce their own movie, ‘in the spirit of “Alien” and “The Thing”. The result is “Harbinger Down”.
When a group of graduate students studying the effects of global warming on a pod of Beluga whales in the Bering Sea aboard the fishing trawler Harbinger recover a crashed Soviet spacecraft entombed in a block of ice, they thaw out their discovery only to find it’s teaming with tardigrades, which the Russians were experimenting on to see how they reacted to intense doses of space radiation. Before they know it, these radioactive soviet water bears are scuttling all over the ship, turning the crew into shapeshifting alien monsters.
While it must be galling to learn that something you’ve worked so hard on has been scrapped without your knowledge, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to have one set of special effects replaced by CGI may be considered a misfortune, to have it happen more than once starts to look like carelessness. A great deal of what ends up on screen in “Harbinger Down” suggests that hubris rather than capricious Hollywood executives may be the real monster here.
The special effects, practical as they are, are for the most part pretty good; competent if not exactly innovative, offering a fond homage to the grisly sci-fi horror B-movies of the 1980s. Unfortunately, the direction and performances of the cast owe much more to the zero-budget z-list Asylum movies of the 21st century which have so callously discarded the practical effects work the makers value so highly. With the exception of Lance Henriksen, who just seems bored, everyone else is so wooden and lifeless that I wasn’t worried about the ship sinking given the cast could be used to build a sturdy raft. The story, such as it is, cobbles together elements and set-pieces from half a dozen other, better movies and makes no attempt to establish a logical narrative flow.
In some markets, this schlocky, often incoherent, deeply derivative movie is called “Inanimate”, which may be a tribute to its cast’s inability to emote properly but in any event is a bafflingly inert name to give a sci-fi horror action movie which this purports to be. I can only presume the bulk of the Kickstarter money was paid to Lance Henriksen to convince him to appear in this utter waste of time and money.