“Terror is just beneath the surface.”
Director: Alec Gillis
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Matt Winston, Giovonnie Samuels
Synopsis: Thawed from ice after three decades, mutated creatures recovered from a piece of Soviet space wreckage terrorise a group of graduate students on a fishing trawler.
Back in 2011, Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI) were commissioned to provide the monsters for Matthijs van Heijningen’s remake of The Thing but, after all the hard work had been completed, the producers of that movie decided to go with CGI. Their decision left ADI with a bunch of redundant monsters and what they probably felt was inadequate financial compensation for being messed about, so the special effects company decided to build their own movie around these creatures. Unfortunately, while ADI co-founder Alec Gillis has plenty of special-effects and make-up credits to his name, he’d never before written or directed a feature-length movie, and his lack of experience in both fields is glaringly apparent in almost every shot of Inanimate (known as Harbinger Down in the States).
The film starts out as a found footage film as a couple of grad students, Sadie (Camille Balsamo – The Paperboy) and Ronelle (Giovonnie Samuels) and their university professor, Stephen (Matt Winston – Fight Club) set off to meet the crabbing boat Harbinger, but reverts to a normal movie once the trio are aboard ship. Sadie’s granddad, Graff (Lance Henricksen – Damien: Omen II, Aliens) is the ship’s owner and captain, and he’s agreed to let the girls and their prof study the effects of global warming on Beluga whales in the Bering sea while the crew goes about its business of catching crabs. As is customary in this sort of movie, the crew catches more than it bargains for when it hauls up a Russian space pod encased in a block of ice. Naturally, the cosmonaut inside is long dead, but the alien organism inside of him is merely dormant, and it wakes up a little grumpy when the temperature starts rising…
Even if your movie knowledge was so limited that Inanimate’s abundance of references to other movies passed you by, you would know, when Captain Graff tells one of his crew “you’re gonna need a bigger bucket,” that we are far from the land of originality here. Whether you consider Inanimate to be a homage to, or rip-off of, such classics as Jaws, Alien and The Thing depends on how charitable a state of mind you’re in while you watch it. To be fair, Gillis makes no attempt to disguise his influences, but neither does he attempt to create an identifiable personality for his own film, and constant reference to classics of the genre simply invites the kind of comparison which Inanimate isn’t strong enough to withstand.
To be brutally honest, it’s not difficult to see why Gillis hasn’t written or directed a feature-length movie before: even allowing for the fact that he was working with a micro-budget, he has little idea of how to build tension, and a frustrating tendency to abruptly cut away whenever the monsters attack. And surely the lack of budget can be no excuse for the poor performances. LA is full of good out-of-work actors who would surely be willing to work for next to nothing simply to get their face out there, but, apart from craggy old pro Henricksen, there isn’t one decent performance to be found in the whole movie. The aliens really are impressive, though, and it’s difficult to understand why Heijningen felt they weren’t right for his picture.
(Reviewed 19th October 2015)