A jealous guy with no chill, his possibly cheating girlfriend, and the guy’s best friend she may be cheating with, sail out into the middle of nowhere and…this may sound like the beginning of a joke, but that’s the setup for Harpoon, which played at Fantasia 2019 this past weekend, and its only sort of a laughing matter…
…Actually, Harpoon is a surprisingly funny horror comedy, but holy shit, is it intense. In fact, it may be my favorite film I’ve seen at Fantasia. Writer/director Rob Grant (Alive) has made his career in telling stories that deal with paranoid jealousies acted out in tight quarters, and Harpoon is no exception. Written by Grant and Mike Kovac, Harpoon tells the story of an odd trio of friends, Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra) and Richard (Christopher Gray), headed out for a day trip on the sea. But when rage-ahol addicted Richard begins to suspect that his girlfriend Sasha and best friend, Jonah, may have slept together, his jealousy quickly turns an awkward trip into a desolate nightmare.
Harpoon might at first remind you of similar flicks like the Sam Neil thriller, Dead Calm, but this film is a typhoon of horror unlike any other, and some of that is thanks to the phenomenal cast trapped on this boat. Paired with an exceptional voiceover performance from Brett Gelman narrating and introducing the cast, our introduction to the trio is watching as Richard barges into Jonah’s house and beats the ever-loving shit out of him, followed by Sasha running in to break up the fight. And I don’t just mean that Jonah gets tossed around a bit. No, Richard leaves his face in bloody tatters, all because of a suspicious text between Jonah and Sasha. Then just moments later, all is forgiven, and they’re off for a fun day trip. Grant gives us the impression that this is a pretty normal cycle for these three maniacs, establishing an odd, masochistic relationship between the three that sets up nicely for what is about to happen. I cannot imagine ever being friends with these people, but I sort of want to be, because at least I know a day with them would never be boring.
The characters in Harpoon are all wildly emotional people, emphasized with ultra-entertaining performances from the cast, including Chambers, who I loved in Turbo Kid, playing a very different type of character here. You won’t want to look away from them and the carnage they cause. You can’t, because this cast is like sirens, mesmerizing and pulling you into this boiling pot of a story. It doesn’t take long for us to learn that Richard, Jonah and Sasha all have the potential for murder. These people are selfish, ruthless animals who are all around terrible friends. And they’re so driven by anger, jealousy and their own survival in the situation once they find themselves stuck at sea, that they can’t stop themselves from incrementally amping up the tension. As Jonah and Richard often say, they want reparations for each act committed against them, and neither knows when to quit. This emotional hurricane makes for a perfect concoction of paranoid horror.
Without spoiling too much, a series of unexpected events finds this cast of loveable assholes stranded in the middle of the ocean without so much as a spork left on the boat. Festering with their own hate for each other, this is literally the worst possible situation for people to experience cabin fever, because they already want to kill each other. As you’d imagine, Harpoon ends up diving into one of the most tension-filled, riveting films I’ve seen all year. Grant consistently finds ways to increase the tension, almost as if we’re sinking deeper and deeper until the water pressure threatens to crush our skulls. Having been shitty friends for years, each character has secrets they’re keeping from each other, and it all comes out, turning Harpoon into a twisty film that throws you around in unexpected directions like a fierce storm on the sea. As our narrator at one point states, “The sea finds out everything you’ve done wrong,” and Harpoon holds true to that. This is not the film you think it is. It’s better.
And as if Harpoon couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, it’s also a shockingly violent exploration of jealousy and mistrust amongst so-called friends. Grant refuses to shy away from the ugliness of the situation. When the violence hits, it hits hard. Not to mention, the effects are painfully realistic. Everything looks like it hurts and hurts bad in Harpoon. Grant also gets pretty nasty with it too. I never need to see anyone drink pigeon-blood to survive ever again thanks to this film. So, if the awkward discomfort between characters discussing who is better in bed between the three of them doesn’t get you, the gore surely will.
Grant has earned my deepest respect with Harpoon, because not only is it possibly the most suspenseful, well-paced horror flick of the year for me, but he and Kovac understand an important key when it comes to a film like this: relief. Audiences need an outlet to relieve tension so that they don’t laugh in the wrong parts, and Harpoon is surprisingly funny in all of the right places. This film is flooded with tongue in cheek humor and devastating irony. You’ll want to pay attention to the hilarious list of bad luck boat curses which the narrator runs through, because all end up playing a larger role than you might think, and in the most unpredictable ways possible. I constantly found myself laughing while also cringing because I knew something horrible had to be just around the corner. That’s a great combination, and it’s what makes Harpoon such a blast to watch.
Harpoon is a film with a hard edge that stabs you in the gut repeatedly, but man does it feel good. So, if you’re looking for a film that’s surprising to the last drop, don’t let this one sail by. I know I personally can’t wait to watch this madness again.
By Matt Konopka