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Film / Harbinger Down

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We're gonna need a bigger bucket.

A 2015 Sci-Fi Horror film directed by Alec Gillis and starring Lance Henriksen.

Two grad students, Sadie and Ronelle, along with their professor Stephen, are out on Sadie's grandfather's crabfishing boat, the Harbinger, conducting a study of the effects of global warming on whales' migratory patterns. Completely by accident, Sadie discovers an old Soviet space capsule frozen in the ice, complete with dead cosmonaut inside. It soon becomes apparent, however, that they should have left it in the ice, as it turns out a rather nasty species of parasitic tardigrade was contained in the capsule.

And now any of them could be infected...

Worth noting that Harbinger Down was written and directed by Gillis and produced by Thomas Woodruff, Jr.; the founders of the special effects company Studio ADI (better known for their work on the Alien franchise, Tremors and Mortal Kombat: The Movie). They had previously done Practical Effects for The Thing prequel, however, most of their work was covered up by CGI in post-production. After posting behind the scenes footage of their work and receiving an outpouring of support, ADI Kickstarted their own film, using mainly practical effects.

It was also released under the title Inanimate.

This film contains examples of:

  • The Assimilator: The tardigrades breakdown whatever they kill into biomass and then add it onto the combined creature they gradually become.
  • Asshole Victim: Sure, Stephen was the first to die by tardigrade infection, and in a spectacularly unpleasant manner at that, but it's hard to feel all that sympathetic for the guy after he forced Sadie to sign over all credit for discovering the capsule, threatened to sue Captain Graff if he didn't get his way, and went around being a condescending, arrogant ass to everyone around him.
  • Blob Monster: The tardigrades can link together the biomass they've accumulated into a solid shape, but can also break it down into a liquid and move wherever they feel like before reforming in another monstrous shape.
  • Body Horror: The effects of being infected by the tardigrades are... unpleasant, to say the least.
  • The Big Guy: Appropriately enough, nicknamed "Big G".
  • Captain Obvious: Big G tends to make a few comments like this throughout the film.
  • Combat Tentacles: The tardigrades have a preference for forming these. Notably, only the form created from Svet has arms or legs while the rest of their forms are just masses of flesh with mouths and tentacles.
  • Downer Ending: Sadie is the sole survivor of the expedition, with everyone else being dead, or worse, and even then there's no guarantee that she isn't infected herself. The Harbinger has been buried in ice in an attempt to contain the tardigrade threat, but that's really only a stopgap measure; the tardigrades had been frozen for thirty years without any ill effects, as they're more or less unkillable, and as soon as the ice melts, they'll be free to do take over as many organisms as they want.
  • Dwindling Party: The crew starts dropping like flies once they bring the wreckage aboard
  • Foregone Conclusion: The boat's called the Harbinger; the movie's titled Harbinger Down; it doesn't exactly take a rocket surgeon.
  • Genre Throwback: The film is one to 80s monster movies, specifically the original The Thing.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The tardigrades were the result of a Soviet experiment to create radiation-proof cosmonauts. Obviously, creating an unkillable Body Horror-inducing parasite wasn’t quite what they had in mind… not that they weren't willing to take advantage of it of course.
  • It Can Think: One of the tardigrades' first actions aboard the Harbinger is to bend the drive shaft and keep the ship from going anywhere.
  • Kill It with Ice: The only thing the tardigrades are vulnerable to.
  • LEGO Genetics: In addition to the various modifications by Soviet scientists, the tardigrades also contain the DNA of countless other organisms due to it being in the seawater around them.
  • Magic Antidote: Averted. Svet was given a vaccine against the tardigrades' effects, not an antidote, as she points out. It doesn't seem to have been a very effective vaccine though…
  • Metamorphosis Monster: The tardigrades become bigger and stronger the more biomass they get. As a result, each time they claim a victim, they transform into an even larger and more monstrous form. Culminating in a gigantic form created from eating two tons of crab.
  • The Mole: Svet was one of numerous Russian agents inserted into fishing boats, hoping to recover the capsule, and destroy the ship once they’d gathered enough intel on the creatures.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Justified, as the parasites are mutated tardigrades; real tardigrades are capable of surviving just about anything we can throw at them, and that's without being genetically modified into super-organisms.
  • Oh, Crap!: A perfectly reasonable reaction if you're trapped on a crab ship with a genetically engineered parasite that grows faster the more it eats and a hold that used to contain two tons of crab.
    • Also Svet's reaction after coming face to face with the monster before her ultimate demise
  • One-Winged Angel: The creature gets into the haul and eats all of the crabs, allowing it to transform into a gigantic abomination.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Sort of. They're more skilled at controlling corpses that they've hollowed out and… modified… than living people.
  • Recycled In Space: It's The Thing ON A BOAT! Justified, as the film was made entirely due to the Executive Meddling on The Thing (2011).
  • Red Shirt: Crewmember Roland, as he doesn't even get a line and the characters never mention his death.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The tardigrades were sealed in ice since the 80s until the Harbinger's crew accidentally released it. The thing proves so indestructible that all that can be done is freezing it again.
  • Shout-Out: to The Thing:
    • "Is that a man in there? Something?"
    • Many references to the 1982 film: The opening scene, where an out of control spacecraft, infested with a monstrous creature, crashes at one of the Earth's poles, is a direct reference to the opening of John Carpenter's Thing. The lunar capsule crashes on June 25 1982, the day The Thing was released, as well as pretty much when the events of that movie occur, as well. The phrase "Voodoo bullshit" shows up here, too.
    • Also, one to Jaws by Sadie's grandfather. "We're gonna need a bigger bucket."
    • In one scene, the 'drinking bird' toys from the Nostromo in Alien are featured prominently.
  • Ultimate Life Form: Mutated tardigrades are near indestructible organism that can survive almost anything.