Harpoon (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

Jealousy, bad tempers, and violence explode between Richard, his girlfriend Sasha, and their best friend Jonah. Trying to make peace, they all head out on Richard’s family board. Soon, they find themselves stranded at sea without food or drinking water.

Written by the team behind Fake Blood, Rob Grant and Mike Kovac with Grant directing as his follow up to last year’s Alive, Harpoon takes the marooned at sea theme, adds a dash of survivalist fun, friend and love drama, and some jealousy and violence to really stir the pot. What could have felt like a mess of genres and sub-genres turns into a really successful amalgam of it all. The story and developments make it all work on a level that makes the film be a great study of how things left unsaid can truly fester and cause strife that only needs to have a small push to really explode. Here the three (only three) characters are very well-written and well-developed, giving the small cast great things to work with. The addition of a narrator as a sort of god-like character who knows things the trio doesn’t, actually work works great and doesn’t feel like an afterthought or something that condescends to the viewer like often happens. Here the narrator is like a dark and dry humor version of say the narrator on Amelie. This narrator adds background to the characters and their situation while feeling a bit sarcastic. It’s something dark humored viewers should love.

This narrator is voiced by Brett Gelman who does great work of delivering everything in as dry a manner as can be, giving odd facts about sailing and about the characters that enhance the story and its dark humor. Playing Richard is Christopher Gray who gives despicable vibes from the first second he shows up on screen. His grown spoiled brat comes off perfectly annoying and aggravating. There isn’t much to redeem him, but then again, it seems to be the theme for all three of the characters here as the story advances. He’s just the most out about it from the get-go. He does and says very little to help himself be likeable. Playing Sasha, his long suffering girlfriend who has a few things up her sleeve is Emily Tyra who gives her character a bit more ambiguity at first but then some things come out and it’s hard to root for her either. Then comes Jonah who is played by Munro Chambers who gives the strongest performance of the bunch, effectively making this his film. His work here shows that the man most genre fans know as Turbo Kid is capable of being very versatile and of something much darker in term of character and intentions. His character arc is what keeps the viewer involved and his performance keeps them glued to the film. This is a film that truly shows how talented he is.

On top of the performances, the cinematography takes the mix of indoors (inside a boat, shot in Alberta, Canada in winter) and outdoors (shot in Belize, for a bit of warmth) in a way that makes it all work even though they were shot in very different locations. The work here makes both the open waters and the claustrophobic cabin feel ominous and uncomfortable at times. There is a safety in both at times, but most of the times they feel dangerous, something that the images created with cinematography by Charles Hamilton takes and makes the most of. The images here start off like a nice little day at sea, fairly happy, then eventually evolve with the story to turn up the pressure and see how long it takes for the cast and viewer to get uncomfortable, which works like a charm here.

Harpoon is one of those films that takes a limited set with just a few characters and turns up the heat until things go very wrong. Here the cast does fantastic work with Chambers making this “his” film by giving a riveting performance. The writing and directing of course set that up and make the most out of it, creating a great film with some truly uncomfortable moment, making Harpoon a must-see film for horror fans and those who like twisted films with dark humor and some nicely sinister twists.

Read Felix’s take on Harpoon.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019.