What would you do if you were trapped on a boat with two of your friends, and no food or water? How far would you go to survive? We’d all like to think that we could handle ourselves in such a situation, but as Rob Grant’s Harpoon demonstrates, even the best of friends can turn on each other.
Jonah, played by Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid) has recently lost his parents, yet he struggles to feel any emotion from it. He’s paid a surprise visit from his long-time friend Richard (Christopher Gray, The Mist TV Series), an affluent daddy’s boy with serious anger issues, who proceeds to beat Jonah’s face into the carpet. Richard’s fists are stopped by his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra, Code Black), but not before breaking Jonah’s nose and knocking over his parents’ urns. Apparently, Richard had come across a text on Sasha’s phone which led him to the conclusion that she cheated on him with Jonah. But in reality, the two were texting about Richard’s birthday present: a brand new harpoon gun (not the kind of toy you should give to a boy with such a bad temper).
“…a dark comedy, a survival thriller and a dramatic story of love and betrayal.”
To make up for his violent outburst, Richard offers to take Jonah and Sasha out on his yacht, named “The Naughty Buoy.” It promises to be a fun day of fishing and sunbathing out in the ocean. That is until they discover there’s no gas in the tank to return back to shore. Worse yet, Richard becomes suspicious and violent all over again and smashes the ship’s radio in yet another fit of rage. With resources running low and tensions running high, the three “friends” are trapped in a small space with no help in sight. Secrets are revealed, skeletons-in-closets are exposed, and the only law is a crooked game of “Even Steven.”
Funny-sometimes-serious man Brett Gelman (Stranger Things, Fleabag) provides the narration as an unseen observer, giving juicy tidbits about each character’s background and historical cases of people surviving at sea (it usually doesn’t work out for at least one person). According to Gelman, the trio were doomed from the moment they stepped on the boat, based on established sailor bad luck superstitions, like redheads and bananas. Gelman speaks up only a handful of times, usually cutting away from the story with black-and-white stock footage for emphasis and his sarcastic tone helps lighten things up. You can really tell he had a blast in the recording room, feeding off the script, while occasionally ad-libbing.
The film makes do with a limited budget, using only two locations (with the exception of Jonah’s house at the beginning): the outside and inside of the yacht. There is quite a bit of gore, but I anticipate that audiences will be a lot more squeamish staring at an infected cut and watching the characters drink seagull blood to survive. In the span of a week, all three of them transition from young fresh-faced friends to dehydrated, sunburned, bloodied adversaries.
The strength of this movie rests on the shoulders of its small cast, specifically Chambers, who always seems to surprise me whenever he taps into a certain inner darkness. Richard and Jonah represent two sides of toxic masculinity coin; one being unfiltered alpha aggression, the other being “Nice Guy Syndrome”- expecting sexual compensation for basic human decency. Sasha is caught in the middle, clearly not happy in her relationship with Richard, but not wanting to get any closer to Jonah. The three of them go between barely tolerating each other to contemplating murder. After everything is said and done, each of them would prefer going their separate ways should they ever step back onto land.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or to whisper “holy shit” to myself.”
The dialogue is a bit tricky, as it serves more to inform the viewer of previous incidents rather than communicate from person to person. Then again, a lot of exposition is required to squeeze several years’ worth of rocky relationships and sexual tension into an hour and a half. In many ways, it’s like a theatrical play, especially the scenes where the trio sit around, drink and weakly laugh about their misfortune and crumbling friendship.
Harpoon is a dark comedy, a survival thriller and a dramatic story of love and betrayal. There are some genuinely funny moments in this movie, that very quickly cross the line into dark territory. I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or to whisper “holy shit” to myself. But in response to Gelman’s quote from the trailer about this movie being “better than Titanic,” I would gladly watch Harpoon several times over than watch Titanic once.
Harpoon had its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on Saturday, July 27th. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.