×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Harpoon’

A day trip on a yacht turns into a grueling life-or-death ordeal for three disloyal friends in Rob Grant's energetically snarky thriller.

Director:
Rob Grant
With:
Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray, Brett Gelman

1 hour 23 minutes

Prolific Canadian writer-director Rob Grant, who’s made five features and one documentary in the last decade, once again puts a limited setting and budget to resourceful use in “Harpoon.” This thriller about three none-too-loyal friends adrift on a yacht made a splash at Fantasia (after a lower-key Rotterdam premiere) with its genre-fan-friendly mix of grisly action and jaunty black comedy.

That balance was particularly successful in Grant’s 2012 “Mon Ami,” wherein two would-be kidnappers kept bungling their way to an ever-higher accidental body count. His latest is slicker but also more glibly mean-spirited, with characters it’s hard to care about and some twists that seem more contrived than clever — or credible. Nonetheless, the energetic mix of mayhem and snark will appeal to those who like their comedy horrific and their horror comedic. It opens in a few U.S. theaters Oct. 4, followed a few days later by Blu-ray and TVOD release.

The arch tone is set immediately by comedian Brett Gelman’s omnipresent narrator, who paraphrases Aristotle on the three types of friendship before introducing us to three friends who barely merit that term at all. Penniless Jonah (Munro Chambers from “Turbo Kid”) is a hopeful hanger-on to the Hitler Youth-looking rich kid duly named Richie (Christopher Gray) and his longtime squeeze Sasha (Emily Tyra). She’s by now accustomed to juggling what the narrator calls “her roles as girlfriend, mother and referee.” Such multitasking is necessary in dealing with a BF who has psychotic outbursts over nothing, such as beating Jonah senseless because he’s misunderstood texts between BFF and GF as evidence of infidelity.

In fact, Sasha and Jonah were orchestrating Richie’s birthday present — the titular spear gun. Its inappropriateness as a gift to someone noted as “prone to fits of rage” reps just the first among several psychological stretches here. Nor are we ever quite convinced that Sasha and Jonah are so helpless or parasitical that they couldn’t come up with better life plans than hitching their wagons to an abusive frat-brat like Richie (who, to make things worse, is apparently the son of a notoriously savage mobster).

Still, the perks are significant, like the yacht outing a remorseful Ritchie proposes after realizing he was perhaps wrong to rearrange his pal’s accusing face. Once all are aboard the “Naughty Buoy,” however, things again rapidly degenerate. Turns out perhaps the birthday boy’s suspicions were right after all, which renders him a lethal menace anew. Flip-flopping allegiances within the triangle are temporarily suspended when the boat becomes disabled, carrying its passengers out into the Atlantic with only enough food and water for a day trip. Naturally, these peevish, finger-pointing millennials aren’t about to pull together long enough in a prolonged, life-threatening crisis. The grievous bodily harm, bad decisions and unhappy disclosures pile up until our protagonists seem less likely to survive each other than they are starvation and thirst.

“Harpoon” is enthusiastically violent, sharply packaged and gamely acted by three able young thesps who make the most of their roles’ frequently over-the-top nature. But it’s hard to like these characters much, and the film sometimes seems to be sneering at them. That reduces whatever emotional stakes there are in a plot with empathy-free twists. Particularly later on, characters abruptly reveal new sides that serve to trigger drastic reversals of fortune but don’t feel organic. “Mon Ami” was also a catalog of grimly funny calamities, but there was an endearing “Fargo”-like quality to its gallows humor that “Harpoon” lacks.

Of course, for most viewers, an exercise like this needs to be lively, nasty and stylish more than it needs to be believable. And in those terms, “Harpoon” delivers. Grant (who’s cut other people’s projects in addition to his own) has an astute editorial sense that, along with Charles Hamilton’s camerawork and the diverse soundtrack, avoids any sense of monotony despite an inherently claustrophobic story concept.

At times, the presentation is a little more smarty-pants than necessary, not just in that winking narration but for impish onscreen text, ironical music choices and occasional grainy B&W narrative digressions. But while it doesn’t quite achieve the Polanski-meets-Coen level of maliciously suspenseful wit it’s going for, “Harpoon” is nonetheless sufficiently lean-and-mean fun as its protagonists walk a plank of their own making.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Harpoon'

Reviewed online, Sept. 27, 2019. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Dread release (U.S.) of a 775 Media Corp. production in association with Venntertainment. Producers: Michael Peterson, Kurtis David Harder, Julian Black Antelope. Executive producer: Laurie Venning.

Crew: Director, writer, editor: Rob Grant. Camera (color, HD): Charles Hamilton. Music: Michelle Osis.

With: Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray, Brett Gelman

More Film

  • In ‘Motherless Brooklyn,’ Edward Norton Takes

    In ‘Motherless Brooklyn,’ Edward Norton Takes on Timeless Power Struggles

    In Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” the ‘50s-set New York noir detective story he produced, directed, wrote and stars in, politics are never far from the surface. But they’re not the obvious parallels to any racist autocrats from New York of modern times, but instead focus on more timeless politics – the way disabled people and [...]

  • 'Joker' Cinematographer Lawrence Sher Wins at

    'Joker' Cinematographer Lawrence Sher Wins at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival

    “Joker” cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s bid, along with director Todd Phillips, to try something “perhaps even a bit artful” won big Saturday in Torun, Poland as he took the top prize at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival. The Golden Frog for cinematography, along with the audience prize, went to his work filming Joaquin Phoenix in the [...]

  • Roberto Schaefer

    Netflix Image Enhancement Rules Take Cinematographers by Surprise

    A Netflix requirement that cinematographers capture films in HDR, or high dynamic range, has taken many by surprise, filmmakers say, but those at the 27th EnergaCamerimage festival in Poland seem increasingly accepting of the change. DP Roberto Schaefer, whose “Red Sea Diving Resort” screened at the cinematography fest in the historic city of Torun, said [...]

  • Lech Majewski and Josh Hartnett

    Lech Majewski on ‘Valley of the Gods,’ Navaho Mythology, Josh Hartnett, Keir Dullea

    TORUN, Poland – In his latest work, “The Valley of the Gods,” director Lech Majewski explores the ancient mythology of a downtrodden people and the absurd wealth of the world’s richest man in a surreal vision of modern America. The film screened at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival as part of special showcase honoring Majewski, [...]

  • The Red Sea Diving Resort

    Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer on Gideon Raff's Thriller ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’

    TORUN, Poland – While Gideon Raff’s Netflix thriller “The Red Sea Diving Resort” shot largely in South Africa and Namibia, the project was a welcomed opportunity for cinematographer Roberto Schaefer due to his own memorable travels through Ethiopia. The film, which screened in the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival’s Contemporary World Cinema section, is loosely based [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content