‘Terror is just beneath the surface’
Harbinger Down – aka Inanimate – is a 2015 American independent science-fiction monster horror film written and directed by Alec Gillis and produced by Tom Woodruff, Jr.; the founders of the special effects company StudioADI. It should not be confused with Harbinger (also 2015).
Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead; Stung; Hollows Grove), Giovonnie Samuels, Reid Collums, Matt Winston (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; Zodiac; The Boy Who Cried Werewolf), Camille Balsamo (Parasitic; Nightcomer) and Milla Bjorn.
A group of graduate students aboard the fishing trawler Harbinger are studying the effects of global warming on a pod of Orcas in the Bering Sea. When the ship’s crew discover the wreckage of Soviet era spacecraft, they are attacked by shapeshifting alien monsters.
When the ship’s crew dredges up a recently thawed piece of old Soviet space wreckage, things get downright deadly. It seems that the Russians experimented with tardigrades, tiny resilient animals able to withstand the extremes of space radiation. The creatures survived, but not without mutation.
Now the crew is exposed to aggressively mutating organisms. And after being locked in ice for three decades, the creatures aren’t about to give up the warmth of human companionship.
In 2010, Amalgamated Dynamics was hired by Universal Studios to create the practical special effects for the 2011 The Thing prequel. However before the film was released, the majority of ADI’s effects work on the film was digitally replaced in post production by (CGI). This decision was upsetting to the crew of Amalgamated Dynamics, as this was not the first film of theirs where they later found their work replaced.
After the release of The Thing, in response to fan queries about what became of ADI’s effects for the film, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. uploaded a behind-the-scenes video to YouTube which showcased their original practical effects prior to their replacement.
According to Gillis and Woodruff, the video received such an overwhelmingly positive response that it inspired them to create a YouTube Channel which would feature their archived videos of creature effects from throughout their career.
Gillis said that it was the tipping point that prompted them to go ahead with their dream of producing their own film. “Honestly, we were resistant to it at first, so it wasn’t until I looked around my shop and saw an empty facility that I realized we were actually at the mercy of studios that didn’t actually care about our techniques anymore. They view it as a commodity and a product, and they’ve corporatised the structure of creating art and in the end it all becomes disposable. That’s not how the fans see our work.”
On May 8, 2013, Alec Gillis began a Kickstarter drive for Harbinger Down, advertising the film as being a monster horror film that was, “in the spirit of two of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time, Alien and The Thing“, and that would feature only practical techniques to create the films monsters, including the use of animatronics, prosthetic makeup, stop motion and miniature effects, with the film’s creatures featuring no digital animation outside of rod/rig removal and digital compositing.
“Made by and for aficionados of ’80s-era sci-fi/horror thrillers, Harbinger Down ranks somewhere between self-consciously cheesy SyFy Channel fare and better-than-average direct-to-video product in terms of production values, performance levels and overall ability to sustain interest while generating suspense.” Joe Leydon, Variety
“There are more than a few unintentionally funny moments, everything from the goofy tentacles wired with LEDs to dialogue pulled almost wholesale from other movies. But the movie as a whole is entertaining, well paced and with more compelling, better developed characters than The Thing prequel (which is an admittedly low bar).” Che Gilson, UK Horror Scene
“The practical effects themselves are mostly fantastic with some being on par with films like The Thing. Unfortunately, a few of the effects also highlight the film’s small budget. There are a few scenes that don’t quite hold up to scrutiny, so the film hides those particular shots by utilizing shaky camera tricks or bad lighting.” Horror-Movies.ca
“Harbinger Down had all the pieces to make something truly memorable and send horror fans back to a time when in-camera FX grabbed our eyes and minds. But without a script rewrite or a wholly original visual style, Harbinger Down settles for average results, and average should never register for a monster movie…” Ken W. Hanley, Fangoria
“We’re here for gooey, gory, frequent sequences in which unpleasant / unlucky characters get trapped in a rusty hallway and get chomped, stomped, and absorbed by a horrific creature with tentacles, tendrils, and endless rows of very sharp teeth. By that measure, Harbinger Down delivers. It also moves pretty quick and offers a few little character beats you might not see coming…” Scott Weinberg, Nerdist
“The worst offense Harbinger Down makes is becoming a The Thing/Alien fan film. Instead of doing something new, it feels like a poorly executed and assembled rehash of the aforementioned classics. Was it overly ambitious? Maybe. But, at the end of the day, a film needs to be judged by what ends up on screen, not how much love went into it. With that said, Harbinger Down is more of an extremely boring Syfy movie than a new sci-fi horror classic.” Bloody Disgusting
“Yet, there’s a lack of sincerity to Gillis’ debut. As an effects man, he’s aces – along with the entire ADI team. As a storyteller, some more polishing needs to be done. There’s no real chemistry amongst the cast, deaths come and go without any lingering recognition, and the wicked seafaring events seem to fast forward during dynamic tension-building scenes until there’s a mutated freak on screen.” Matt Donato, We Got This Covered
“We have as much money as the Vatican. And twice as many lawyers!”