What I'm Watching: Harbinger Down
When I heard that there was going to be a movie about Lance Henriksen vs. Waterbears, well, it was a foregone conclusion that this was a movie I needed to see. So, of course it snuck out on DVD when I wasn't watching, and now I'm here doing catch-up. But better late than never!
Now, what the ACTUAL plot is about, is a group of students going out into the Bering Sea on a boat (The titular Harbinger), captained by Henriksen who is also the grandfather to our lead heroine Sadie. They've come to study the Beluga whale and climate change's effects on it, and of course discover a crashed Russian space capsule, and Captain Moscow frozen in the ice.
Ever since I heard about the waterbear and its amazing resilience to pretty much everything, I wanted SOMEone to make a horror movie, somehow using them as the monster. Almost immediately, along came Harbinger Down, and they double down (Sorry) with casting Lance Henriksen. So yeah, needless to say, I was pumped to see this, even if it ended up being the biggest cheesefest ever. So, how *does* Harbinger Down fare?
Much of the conflict in the first act is provided by Sadie and her advisor Stephen going head to head over the find of the Russian vessel, its pilot, the waterbears she finds in the corpse, and whomever is going to get the credit and praise for this. And it's easily the weakest part of the film. It feels overly forced, and the acting is rather wooden. It floats around that sort of "Just get on with it!" sort of plot delay.
But fortunately, once Stephen is exposed to the creatures, and goes all body horror straight out of Alien by way of The Thing, the movie really takes off. And yes, everyone gets sprayed by the dying doctor's tardigrade infected bile or whatever, sending this entire thing straight into The Thing levels of paranoia. Hey, if you're gonna ste...homage, do it from the best, right? I hate the constant comparisons to The Thing that are going to come up, but it is what it is. On the upside, it's a better sequel to The Thing than its actual sequel.
And if that wasn't enough, the Russian woman that came along, just so happens to be a Russian agent charged with making sure the capsule never reaches shore! Surprise! The Russian works for the Russians!
This movie knows what it is at times, or what it WANTS to be. It throws out visual and dialogue references to stuff from Alien, The Thing, Jaws...it uses its stifled, cramped location of the Harbinger to great effect, when coupled with the paranoia of the infection. We all know how cramped submarine movies feel, and this movie is just a step up, with bubbling tensions being unable to be released, with no escape, but at least they can get some air from time to time.
I quite frankly could've done without the human personal problems of the science credit drama, and the Russians trying to protect their capsule. The movie could've been something special with a new take on The Thing kind of story, but instead gets mired down by the humans being more of a problem than the actual pink slime.
When the movie is dealing with it's monster, or the paranoia, it's pretty good. But when they're turning against each other for petty reasons, my interest starts to wane. The movie spends so much time dealing with stuff like, charges Sveta planted to sink the Harbinger, just to have the giant waterbear start punching holes through walls and floors anyways. See, you coulda just cut to the chase there!
Still, when the movie is on point, it rocks. The paranoia works, the body horror takes a decent stab at reaching The Thing levels of cool (But really, reaching THAT level is nigh impossible). The effects are good, even if I wish they didn't keep them hidden in the darkness so much. The story's pretty solid, even with the human interference. I understand why that stuff is there, and it could've worked given maybe a few more revisions or something. It just feels like two different movies fighting over which one wants to dominate, and they never quite resolved together into a cohesive whole.
Once the movie gets going, it's a fun ride. The paranoia is never quite played up enough, but the monsters are effective and gooey, and most of the cast is good, especially Lance. Duh. No surprise there. Most of the problems stem from the first act, and that's largely due to the movie setting things up and killing time until the fun begins, so I can't fault it too much.
Overall, Harbinger Down is a flawed movie with a bunch of good ideas (Borrowed from some of the best horror movies made, to be honest, but like I said...), but is still worth seeing for a fun story with a new creature, and ends up being satisfying with its conclusion. I may not have fallen in love with the movie, but it still delivered on most of the promises of the initial concept. Harbinger Down is a worthy addition to the paranoia shapechanging alien monster genre, and worth your time.
...Can you believe that's actually a subgenre?