Movie Review: ‘Harbinger Down’

Review by Tom Swift

A long frozen, Soviet cosmonaut melts into an Arctic monster bent on gobbling up life on earth.

Remember the first time you saw Sigourney Weaver in Alien? The claustrophobia of her spaceship? The goo dripping out of nowhere, everywhere? The monster’s weird teeth that let all hell loose? I would issue a spoiler alert, but by2015, if you don’t know where this one is going, you should open your eyes.

Harbinger Down tries to recapture that terror on a shoestring budget. It does a decent job of evoking the fears of “things that go dump in the night” and “let’s get that strange stuff I just touched off my hands.” And in this age of helicopters overhead searching for criminals in your neighborhood, not to mention, rampant hand sanitizers, this “decent job” might be enough for an untaxing, throbbing heart attack film. The fearless need not apply. That is, if there are any left.

A flaming Soviet capsule crashes into the Arctic Ocean as the film opens. It’s the 1980’s. The Cold War. The cosmonaut is freaked out. Goo drips. Flash forward to now. A research vessel, Harbinger, plows into the Arctic to do research on global warming. The message seems to be: you don’t really want to know how bad things are.

Our intrepid researchers and their crusty captain with his smack talking crew find the long frozen capsule — because the ice is melting now, and whales are dancing around the capsule’s blinking red light. They take the capsule on board. No one sprays it down with antiseptic. You have to wonder: does no one watch TV and know they have to wipe the capsule down with diaper wipes?

Whereupon we just touch upon the fears the film plays upon. It’s almost impossible to make a smart, sarcastic comedy on the kind of budget this film must have had. It would take too many takes to get the snark right. So, the filmmakers play it straight, figuring no doubt that the germophobic will find this film somehow amidst the vast sea of otherwise sanitized pictures. Is that you?

The name “talent” here is Lance Henriksen, doing his best to act like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. The female lead is his spunky, surrogate daughter. There’s an evil PhD out to make his career off her discovery – while defending the greed of the “university.”

The crew dies off one by one. The film looks good enough to allow the willing suspension of disbelief. But by superhero movie standards: where’s the beef, or, more accurately, a believable monster? A gooey nightmare might just not be enough. If not, go watch Alien again.

On VOD now and DVD September 1.

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