Harpoon’s slightly cryptic synopsis, tagline and trailer ultimately translate into one of the best contemporary slashers I’ve seen so far this year.
With a title that’s easy to confuse with the 2009 film ‘Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre’ (which I will confess that I did initially before actually reading the information sent to me), this film is not a straight up slasher film by any means, and the titular object is more so the catalyst for a series of spiralling events as opposed to being a weapon used to stalk the frugal cast of three.
The plot (which I will also admit, I didn’t quite understand from either synopsis or trailer) revolves around a boat trip undertaken by a group of three individuals who have a highly dysfunctional friendship. The film opens with the characters being introduced as friends, but then we watch a scene where one wails on another suspecting him of cheating. As an act of penance, apparently it was all a miss understanding, the richer of the three invites the others onto his boat. From then on in, a series of revelations sees their already volatile friendships reach new heights as the level of threat, violence and rivalry escalates until the whole affair becomes more a cat and mouse game of survival – not helped of course that they become inevitably stranded at sea.
So, calling ‘Harpoon’ a straight up slasher would perhaps in itself a tad misleading. This film certainly blends very successfully the line between thriller and the slasher genre, right up to the end. The plot twists and turns, the characters remain reasonably grounded, despite an exaggerated set of conditions and responses. In addition to this, the threat upon them remains tangible, and there is no singular threat from a stalker. Instead the film crafts and weaves a set of situations, cleverly and subtly changing the conditions for the characters, essentially forcing them to act more and more desperately, at times even forcing their hands without them knowing it. It translates into a very organic feeling of tension and pace.
So, thriller then?
Well, yes and no, I’ve categorised it as a slasher on the basis of its violence, which is bloody and sustained and perhaps more so, its character style. We have the ‘rich one’, ‘the girlfriend/love interest’ and the ‘beta male’ all of whom are familiar tropes within the sub-genre; and that’s not a slight at the character development either, in fact, the choice to have their characters play out as pawns in a game rather than try to have them push social fashions on us as viewers was something I really respected. For example, Sasha, the only woman in the film isn’t a ‘strong independent woman’ cliché, nor is the masculine looking ‘Jonah’ portrayed as someone so obnoxious you just can’t get on with. In fact, these characters are so refreshingly balanced that its been ages since I simply didn’t know who to side with, or more commonly, want them all to die! Each character has their own flaws and sympathies – again, clever writing.
The acting also deserves credit. It seems that the cast really got into what their characters represented in the context of the film rather than trying to force their characters into a constant limelight. The dynamic of the group comes off naturally – despite its farcical interaction.
Rounding off the package nicely is the aforementioned violence. Its not balls to the wall gore, nor does it equate to a huge body count, but its well dispersed through the film that, as the three each essentially take it in turns to be both victim and assailant, and there’s seldom 10 minutes or so without some sort of violence erupting on screen. It escalates as time passes to, which again gives a feeling that the film is more violent that it actually is. The effects look great, especially the blood which there is certainly not a lack of.
Overall, ‘Harpoon’ is a great film for a Saturday night. Its (probably) not got oodles of re-watchability and there are a few little pretentious additions thrown in here or there but overall, I really enjoyed it, a lot actually.