Harpoon, which has toured notable festivals and screened at this year’s FrightFest in London in August, begins with Brett Gelman’s voiceover, which details Aristotle’s three types of friendships; ones of utility, pleasure, and appreciation of mutual values. Our narrator adds a fourth type, one of history, which is how our three protagonists are connected. Jonah, Sasha, and Richard are all friends, but clearly their relationships are dysfunctional at best. Richard beats Jonah after suspecting he is sleeping with his girlfriend Sasha, but the suspicious texts then turn out to be about the titular harpoon, which is actually a spear-gun which the two have got for Richard’s birthday. The three set out on a day out at sea on Richard’s fancy boat, but things go awry when violence erupts and then the motor of the boat stops working.
For the first 20 minutes, Harpoon is a strange film. Its dialogue is full of clumsy exposition that doesn’t fit into the actors’ mouths and sounds like the first draft of a student film. Once things move into the boat and things start going wrong, the film kicks into higher gear and becomes a very different beast. Believe me when I say, this film has plenty of tricks up its sleeve and no one is safe.
After the half-way mark, all bets are off and the film rides solely on its surprise element. The dynamic between the characters is ever-changing and more and more details of their past are brought up and held against each and every one of them. No one is as innocent as they’d like to believe and perhaps the boat is a form of limbo for our doomed trio. Maybe these people are stuck there as punishment or maybe this is their chance to redeem themselves. Much like the titular harpoon, which is, in fact, a spear-gun, the film claims to be one thing but quickly transforms into something else. The initial conflict might stem from the fight to survival out on the sea, but it pales in comparison to the other moral battles inside the boat.
The film’s biggest weakness throughout is the dialogue. It feels overly rehearsed and constructed, it never flows freely. One scene seems to fix everything; when a bottle of booze is discovered, it leads to a hilariously honest conversation about sex and it’s somehow the film’s best scene. It feels natural, real and genuinely funny, which is something the film strives for but doesn’t quite nail until this scene. All three leads do amicable jobs, but they don’t quite click together until this scene. It’s here that the easiness and weariness of their dynamic finally comes apparent.
Harpoon is director Rob Grant’s second feature and while it has many flaws, the good outweighs the bad. In an era where everything has been done to death, Harpoon feels genuinely surprising and fun. It also makes the most of its single location. The boat, named The Naughty Buoy, feels claustrophobic and I’m sure we can all imagine the nightmare of being stuck in such a tiny place with people you hate.
The inevitable violence feels shocking and brutal, but there isn’t that much of it. Harpoon perhaps wants to be a more deep and thoughtful examination of the human condition than it is, but it’s at its best when it goes full-on with its own wackiness. The violence and gore, when they come, are effective and spectacular in nature, but they make way for smaller moments of tension.
Surprisingly, Harpoon manages to bring forth some themes of class as well as the ones about friendship and loyalty. Richard’s wealth is something that hovers over the characters and their situation, but it’s also Richard who seems most keen on surviving, actively looking for ways to make it through their ordeal. Jonah points out Richard will never know what it’s like to have to work for everything in life and there’s a lot of contempt in his voice. It’s a shame the film never explores this further, but it does add a bit of spice to the narrative.
Ultimately, Harpoon wants to examine human nature and the relationships we form. It doesn’t do it exceptionally well, but Harpoon is such an entertaining and shocking film, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a film that keeps reinventing itself and what it’s about, who’s story this is and it makes for an exciting and exhilarating viewing experience. It’s a relentless thriller, one that doesn’t let up until the very last moment possible and it is a guaranteed edge-of-your-seat horror thriller. A feel-good-movie this is not, but you won’t be disappointed if it’s violence and betrayal you seek.
Dir: Rob Grant
Scr: Rob Grant
Prd: Michael Peterson, Kurtis David Harder, Julian Black Antelope
DoP: Charles Hamilton
Music: Michelle Osis
Runtime: 83 minutes
Harpoon is now available.