Thursday, 20 August 2015

Harbinger Down (2015)

This is another film which I backed on kickstarter, and am watching as a digital download.  Harbinger Down's selling point was that it is a "practical effects" horror film.  That means that it eschews CGI in favour of using models, miniatures, make-up and costumes.  The techniques, in other words, of such classics of the genre as Alien and The Thing.

The kickstarter itself specifically called out those two movies as inspirations for this one, but even if you hadn't read that, I doubt you'd have any trouble picking up the common lineage, especially with John Carpenter's renowned film.  Like The Thing, this film features an isolated group in a hostile, bitterly cold and isolated location (albeit at the opposite end of the world).  Like The Thing, it posits that an artefact is found in the ice: an artefact that contains a dangerous life form capable of mutating its form.

This is not to say that this is a slavish copy of the earlier film.  Harbinger Down has its own set of characters with their own set of motivations and relationships.  I think it's given more scope in this regard by its inclusion of characters of differing genders and more varied professions.  It also has a less tense and more pulpy feel to it.  While it does includes some of the same themes of paranoia, with the question of 'who can be trusted?', they're much less prominent than in the Carpenter film, and the context in which they are asked is also somewhat different.

So with its inspirations clear, how is the film?  It's not bad at all, actually.  The cast are good, and the effects - while not as strikingly memorable as the two films that so inspired it - are well executed (very well, given the budget).  The script is generally sound as well.  There are a few slightly rough moments, but it whips along at a decent clip and doesn't really let the pace slacken once the monster comes into the open.

Really the biggest criticism I can level at the film is that it wears its inspiration a little too obviously on its sleeve.  The parallels to The Thing are strong and numerous, and while this is a capable enough bit of old school horror, it is not in the same class as The Thing.  Of course, few movies are.

If you're the kind of film wonk who is passionate about practical effects work, or you just have a hankering for a straightforward horror flick that's not laden down with a hundred gaudy CGI shots (I'm a bit of both of the above, myself), this is worth the 80 minute investment to watch it.

I hope these folks get to make another film - one that distances itself a bit more from its inspirations, preferably.

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