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Keeping it Practical


The Kickstarted...Kickstartered...Kick-start...the Kickstarter-funded Harbinger Down that promised an entirely practical effects movie set a high bar for itself. It was doomed from the beginning with the expectations I had set for it, there was little to no chance of it meeting them in full. And sadly, it just wasn't quite up to that unfair standard I had prematurely established.

Set on an icebreaker vessel, the crew comes across a fallen Russian space vehicle containing a mutated colony of tardigrades. For whatever reason, these tardigrades cease to behave like tardigrades and develop entirely new attributes completely unassociated with the original organism, beginning to operate like an amorphic super-parasite. Violent practical effects ensue.

The greatest appeal of this horror movie is the practical effects. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. If the practical effects are everything we hoped they would be, the rest of the film's qualities are moot. If the practical effects fall short, the other flaws of the film will be exacerbated. And sadly the practical effects did fall short, so it's time to tear this film a bigger hole than the tardigrades did to the cast.

The plot ended up being more flawed than I expected. The creature discovery and explanation is rushed and choppy, never fulfilling a complete thought process on the why's and how's of its existence. The characters were sub-standard. On this budget, I wasn't expecting much from the acting outside of Lance Henriksen, and that expectation was met in full. Everyone looked like they were working through a sophomore collegiate drama class and struggled to maintain any type of established character. The script was abysmal with some laugh-out-loud lines of idiocy, and disjointed dialogue that either spoon-fed plot points or made for incredibly awkward interactions. I was hoping to forget I was watching a Kickstarter movie at some point, but sadly my standards were too high. But this was all forgiveable if the practical effects panned out.

The practical effects were valiantly decent. We got some well-designed creature sets that gave us glimpses of the good ol' 80's creature features we miss so dearly. Sadly, those are all we get throughout the entirety of the film are glimpses. Off-camera shots, heavy and thick shadows throughout, ridiculously overused flashing and frantic lights, erratically firing camera angles and cut-aways...We barely get a shot of any of the work the crew bragged to be the heroic saviors of. When we did, it was often a repetitive squiggly tentacle effect.

The one awesome shot of a grotesque Venom-teeth-filled mouth was gone before it had arrived and simply didn't do enough damage that could be quantifiably confirmed visually. Basically, the film had a lot of bark, bared a little of its teeth, but scarcely bit. Literally. Nearly all the creature effects work was tentacles writhing around and grabbing people. When we get a "majestic" shot of the creature, the camera quickly pans away and we get very little of its motion to establish the visceral realism that makes practical effects a missed medium. I hate to use this word as harsh as it is, but it was a bit cowardly how the director avoided lighting and extended camera shots to establish the creations. It cheapened the product I believe they honestly wanted to deliver on. Unlike The Thing, which never deterred from showing every gruesome effect they could come up with in proper lighting, Harbinger Down seemed to fearfully hide everything the dark corners of the set. It was too close a reminder to my cold, broken heart of what Blood Glacier could have been.

Like I said before, my standards were set unrealistically and unfairly high. This was a Kickstarter film with bold and genuine intentions that just needed a higher budget than it was able to achieve. The budget was clearly directed as much as possible to the effects. This led the rest of the film to struggle, including the cinematography that couldn't deliver the creature in the best light (literally). I would say support the film by renting it if you want to give a hand (indirectly) to the practical effects industry and to establish your own critique of the practical effects delivered. Perhaps with a lower standard, you can come out feeling satisfied or even impressed with what this crew was able to achieve on a mere Kickstarter budget. I wish so badly I wasn't disappointed, but alas, tentacle porn.

Horror Qualifier: 7/10

Horror Quality: 7/10

Film Quality: 2/10

And the "uncensored" version of the tentacle monster for your viewing pleasure:

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