Harbinger Down (2015) - Cosmonauts on Ice

Written and Directed by Alec Gillis. Starring: Lance Henricksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Redi Collums, Winston James Francis, Giovonnie Samuels & Milla Bjorn

How catching crabs isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you at sea, and why you should never let another man squirt goo, from his fleshy protuberance, all over your face.

University students, Sadie (Camille Balsamo), Ronelle (Giovonnie Samuels) and their Professor, Stephen, (Matt Winston) join the crew of the crabbing ship Harbinger, to track and study a pod of Beluga whales.

The ship captain (Lance Henrickson) is the grandfather of Sadie so arranging passage wasn’t a problem. The crew will do their crabbing by night, and the students can do their thing as and when.

One night, Sadie is awoken by the tracker informing her that the whales are nearby. Unable to successfully rouse the rest of her uni-team, she heads outside.

Whilst on deck, Sadie discovers a beacon buried in the ice. Curiosity causes the crew to bring the ice-block aboard; and a bit of defrosting reveals a downed Soviet landing craft; complete with a dead cosmonaut.

With the weather worsening, they place it in the hold, to examine it once they get back into the harbour.

Harbinger Down is a fun, entraining movie, that is a love-letter to flicks such as Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. There are even visible nods to those movies too. I can’t be the only one who sees those drinking bird things and is reminded of Alien. For horror/genre fans there will be plenty of familiarities here, from story similarities with The Thing to ad-libbed lines from Jaws.

Achieving its funding (thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign) the movie gained attention with its premise, the knowledge and experience of the people involved, and its use of mainly practical effects.

And boy, as those practical effects stunning.

The first glimpse of the creature is awesomely icky as we get to see some strange fleshy, amorphous blob, claiming a victim.

Later on, we see traces of bio-luminescence and the oceanic, tentacular nightmare, look of the creature adds a Lovecraftian feel to it.

And there are the expected bodily transformations as Thing-esque monstrosities, that are an amalgam of human, tentacle and tooth, which are the monster-effect highlights of the film.

Sadie was shocked at the state of her friend's back acne.

It’s not just the creature effects that look good either. The sets and lighting are suitably atmospheric, with narrow, darkened corridors that look naturally lit by actual light; none of that over-bright, typically fake, movie-fare.

The cast was likeable, with each character having distinct personalities that made them stand out and helped keep them likeable, and mostly as folks that you wouldn't mind hanging out with in real life.

Acting is good all around, although as expected, it’s Lance Henrickson who shines here. His screen presence is fantastic, and he dominates every scene that he's in. Unemotionally, on his part, I should add, and in a good way too. It’s just the difference of someone who’s been honing his craft over many years.

No pithy comments from me, I'm not messing with this crabby captain.

I also want to mention Matt Winston, as there’s a scene where his character of Stephen says, “expedation,” then corrects himself to say “expedition.” No idea if that was a genuine goof, or just good acting, as it felt natural. His character was feeling a little rattled and undermined, and in real life, that is a circumstance when someone would trip over their words. Either way, it didn’t feel out of place and gave a more natural, human element to his character. Which is good, as the majority of the time, he’s portrayed as an insufferably pompous dick.

Audio is good with suitably squishy sounds from the creature, and the expected metallic clanks and bangs of life on a crabbing ship. The music too (by Christopher Drake) suits the on-screen action, and my only real complaint with it is that I can't find the soundtrack anywhere. That being said, it is on Christopher Drake's Soundcloud profile, which you can find here. He has some fantastic tracks on there which I've been listening to whilst writing this review.

There are, naturally, a few negatives that I have to mention. For all talk of the practical effects, (which look amazing) they can be hard to see during action scenes. For some reason, whenever someone comes into a confrontation with the creature, the camera moves around like crazy, and the shots are far too close to the action. It’s a real shame, as it obscures one of the major selling points of the movie. The practical effects look fantastic, but they’re just not given quite enough time to shine.

Whether that was done on the day, or in editing, is hard to say. There are definitely some camera shakes that were added during the editing process, and it's possible the close-up look of some shots was also done during that time, rather than on the day.

It’s a shame things were a bit too obscured. Sometimes, less is more, but not in this case.

It’s a good fun film, with a nice, old-school, feel to it, the only let-down being, that lack of clarity on the prosthetics, during some of the set-pieces.

It’s not as good as the films it homages, but that’s fine because those are some pretty big boots to fill. Besides, for a film that is pretty much a directorial debut from a man whose career is in special effects and make-up, this is a bloody good start.

On a side note, anyone who is reading this and thinking that this film sounds familiar, well it has also been released under the title Inanimate, so there is a chance you may have caught under that other monicker.

You can find the movie on Amazon UK, with the title on Inanimate right here.

You can also find it here for Amazon US under its proper title of Harbinger Down.