Let’s be clear. Harbinger Down is a remake of The Thing without John Carpenter’s special effects genius. It’s literally the same plot, only set on a crabbing boat instead of a research station. The special effects wouldn’t stand on their own even without the comparison to John Carpenter’s work and don’t do anything in Harbinger Down that we haven’t seen at least ten times before, and twice as effectively.
The pacing is off, the character conflict feels forced and awkward, the actors flounder with a directionless script, and the twist with the Russian spies is laughable. This could have been a great character piece, as the various conflicts and clashes of personality are established early on, and with a subtly that would have implied a far more sophisticated script than what the final product turned out of. It would have been interesting to explore the dynamic between the fishing crew and the scientists (and the large wealth/class disparity), the bickering crew members, and the dynamic between the captain and his granddaughter. The early scenes with those two were my favorite, as the captain attempted to be supportive and yet completely missed the mark without understanding why. Plus, the relationship between two of the crew members felt like the most organic and realistic connection of the whole movie, before the second-act twist invalidates it. For ten minutes, I saw a relationship between a combative and clearly traumatized woman and an equally combative man develop in a way that wasn’t patronizing to either of the characters. Sure they liked to drink and punch each other, but their personal boundaries are respected. They treat each other like people. A dynamic like that shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it barely ever shows up. For a moment, I had some hope for those two characters.
Then, of course, the twist invalidates the whole thing. There are ways to display the breakdown of a group without inexplicably turning one person into a heartless Russian spy.
Harbinger Down is a failure of a monster movie and a horror film. It establishes the rules that the monster operates by, but fails to make it either visually interesting or scary. The attempts to increase the scales and heighten the tension feel artificial and forced. None of the organic conflict between the characters is utilized.
When used correctly, ships make for wonderful set pieces. Add in the arctic scenery and Harbinger Down should at least have been interesting to look at. And for the first twenty minutes, Harbinger Down does have some interesting shots. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is shot at night and inside the ship, which is consistently bland and predictable. What should have been a touching moment where the ashes of a dead relative are spread is shot in unfortunate lighting and passes almost without note. This is nothing we haven’t seen before. It had the potential to rise about is inspiration, but missed by a large margin. Skip it.