★★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s all fun and games until you have to draw straws to determine who becomes the sacrifice in a lifeboat dilemma. Harpoon is a savage look at a love triangle gone completely haywire and lost at sea.
Directed by Rob Grant
Harpoon was one of last year’s Festival darling horror films, having created a buzz in a number of prestigious festivals like Fantasia Fest in Montreal and Sitges in Barcelona. Like many independent horror films, this felt like a stage play. It has a compact and compellingly darkly humorous dialogue, and a minimum of sets, shot in, of all places… Calgary and Belize (for the boat scenes). It’s a small cast featuring Munro Chambers as Jonah, the tragic sad-sack beta-male, Christopher Gray as his boorish alpha-male and wealthy best friend Richard, and Emily Tyra who plays Sasha, the love interest for both young men, and the unofficial referee of the inter-friendship squabbles.
The movie opens with Jonah packing up his memories of his parents belongings, following their untimely accidental death. Richard barges into Jonah’s home and immediately starts pummeling Jonah into a bleeding and bruised mess, accusing him of having an affair with Sasha. Sasha then enters to break up the beating and declaring that the mysterious texting and secrecy was about Sasha’s purchase of a harpoon for Richard’s surprise birthday gift. Yeah, whoops!
In order to make up for the assault on his best mate, Richard brings the other two onto his yacht for a day trip, paying off his misunderstanding with a tropical joy ride. He even allows each of the other two to get a free punch in on him to show them how sorry he is. As the day wears on, Richard continues to badger Jonah and Sasha, and is able to deduce, despite his limited imagination, that the two actually did have an affair. But, before he has a chance to enact more violence, Sasha gets the jump on Richard and knocks him out. And that’s not a huge spoiler, since all of this action takes place in the first act.
A series of very bad decisions by each one of the characters results in the three of them stranded at sea, with no means of help. They are going to starve and dehydrate unless they can get to shore or get help, but because of their own idiocies, they are adrift at sea. There are plenty more secrets among the three best friends, and the pressure cooker that is the lifeboat scenario boils all of these secrets to the surface.
Eventually, they are forced to reckon with the unthinkable. Self-sacrifice of their own flesh so that the others may live. The problem though now is that they are all so angry with each other that none of them is willing to make the noble sacrifice, and a stressful stalemate ensues.
Richard Grant and his cast do a terrific job of shifting and adjusting the dynamics of each of the characters. I found myself alternately rooting for and against each of the characters, even Richard, who initially was set up to be the boorish bully, is a young man with a complex makeup, and despite his brashness has some endearing moments. There are several times in the movie where my thoughts could be summarized with “Ohhhh, dude.” That recognition that, whoops, that was a piece of really awkward information that could really mess things up.
The film made me smile, its humor eliciting a wry response, if not outright belly laughs. It also is an intriguing and oddly sexy drama, and the revelation bombs get spaced at just the right moments to buoy the plot at a nice pace. Like any survival tale, always in the back of your mind is “Is there any hope of rescue?” and “What would I do in this situation?” I particularly liked the end of the story and how the fates meted out their own curious form of justice.
Harpoon is rated R for some pretty savage violence, and a fair bit of sexy talk (An entertaining desperate banter in the third act in particular.) This film would certainly walk the line of horror or not, but it is a very solid thriller with a splash of comedy thrown in. It is available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google, and Vudu.