Being stranded at sea is a familiar horror trope these days, with movies like Triangle, Open Water and The Reef providing more than their fair share of high seas horror.
The bleak, unending horizon offering nothing but doom and misfortune, the sun beating down mercilessly as supplies and hope run unflinchingly low; it’s understandable why directors would view this as fertile ground for nightmare scenarios.
But rarely have we seen a movie that straddles the line in this niche genre between gut-churning dread and laugh-out-loud punchlines as well as Harpoon. Rob Grant (Alive, Mon Ami) delivers up a horror movie that is as big on black comedy as it is on gore.
Running at a lean 83 minutes, it is a movie that doesn’t outstay its welcome and delivers on its grim premise with bucketloads of tongue-in-cheek horror and blood. Harpoon is a story of three close friends and the secrets and resentments they harbour; anger-management poster-boy Richard (Christopher Gray), disaffected Jonah (Munro Chambers) and the unbelievably understanding Sasha (Emily Tyra).
After a violent outburst from Richard, he attempts to make it up to his long-suffering girlfriend and best pal by taking them out on his boat (the wonderfully named Naughty Buoy) for a day of partying on the high seas.
What begins as a day of apology and revelry, quickly descends into a pitch-black comedy of desperation, betrayal, violence and blood. The film plays out as an intimate three-hander, with our leads all largely being confined to one location, peeling back the layers of their incestuous friendships to reveal a core as rotten as a dead seagull. Grant’s direction is taught and tense; the claustrophobia of the cabin at odds with the endless nature of the ocean surrounding them on all sides, Grant manages to wring every drop of horror from the situation.
We are taken from the cabin briefly while the characters recount an Edgar Allen Poe story that plays on similar themes to their own situation, with coincidence playing as an ominous portent of things to come.
The entire affair is narrated by the ever-wonderful Brett Gelman (Fleabag, Stranger Things). Gelman’s unnamed narrator acts as an omniscient presence, dropping in and out of the story to provide an hilarious and snarky commentary to the various acts of horror and stupidity.
Gelman’s narration also aids in fleshing out the character backstories, helping us see that our trio were doomed before they set off on their trip. Gelman infuses real gusto in his narration, clearly loving the chance to provide an over-the-top commentary as our trio plunge deeper into despair and treachery.
Harpoon will make you laugh and wince in equal measure. It wastes no time in establishing the stakes for the characters (that they are seemingly willing to kill each other from the off is a particularly fun notion), and the plot machinations ensure that the viewer is never quite on steady ground in working out where allegiances lie.
The actors do a fine job in bringing life to three largely unpleasant people, trapped in their triangle through circumstance, fear and necessity long before they set foot on the boat. As the movie progresses, the balance of horror and comedy decidedly tips towards the macabre. The practical effects in Harpoon are great throughout, but the final act is where they truly come into their own; a particular scene involving drawing straws for survival leads to a brutal and nauseating sequence that will stay long in the memory.
Thankfully, in the midst of a third act full of gore and revelations, our narrator returns to undercut the brutality of the scenes with a punchline that is as funny as it is fitting for our gang of dubious morals.
Harpoon‘s ending arrives abruptly after some left-field revelations, and after the rip-cord is pulled on the plot twists the director brings the movie to a swift and ignominious end. Which, ultimately, feels like no more than these characters deserve. By Hugh McStay at The London Horror Society
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