'Harpoon': Film Review

Harpoon Still 2 - Fantasia International Film Festival - H 2019
Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival
A nasty look at pride, betrayal and misnamed nautical gear on the open sea.

Rob Grant sets a volatile love triangle out to sea and watches the bloody result.

Never go out on a boat with a man who recently beat you nearly to the point of unconsciousness — especially if you harbor feelings for his girlfriend, who's also coming on the trip. A no-brainer, right? This and other less obvious lessons are taught in Harpoon, Rob Grant's hot-tempered and quite bloody three-person thriller. Lean but spirited, and benefiting from the know-it-all comic narration of Brett Gelman, it's more commercial than most of the microbudget thrillers being released at the moment, but will surely find most of its viewers on digital platforms.

The brute in question is Richard (Christopher Gray), a spoiled rich kid who lashes out when things don't go his way. The pic's opening scenes find him bashing in the face of his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers), believing he has found evidence that Jonah's having an affair with his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra). The thrashing is well underway when Sasha storms in to prove him wrong: The conversation Richard spied on was actually about a birthday surprise they'd planned for him — a finely crafted little spear gun. (Not, as the script keeps reminding us, a "harpoon.")

Immediately contrite, Richard insists on taking the two out for a pleasure cruise on his boat The Naughty Buoy. But that spear gun isn't the only kind of spring-loaded phallic tension on board, and once they're far from land, we learn that there actually has been something between Sasha and Jonah, even if the latter has little hope of stealing her away. After much shouting, violence and high-stakes negotiation, the three find themselves stuck together on an incapacitated boat with no radio, almost no food and one wound that is about to turn gangrenous.

Lifeboat-style tensions take on a different flavor when characters' willingness to kill each other is acknowledged from the start. The three young thesps manage something many of their peers in indie thrillers can't do: Each makes his character pitiable or hateful or annoying without making one wish he'd just die already. It helps that Grant's script supplies an omniscient commentator who sees their faults even more clearly than we do. Gelman, who after his success on Fleabag and Stranger Things should finally graduate to bigger things, disdains our protagonists like an uncaring god, pointing out not only character defects but minor violations of seafaring superstition. (For instance, unsurprisingly, it turns out people named Jonah aren't supposed to be allowed on boats.)

Gelman's narration also fills in several threads of backstory that explain the unhealthy dependencies these characters have on each other; privilege and envy are not insignificant here, but the film never really enters into full-tilt class warfare.

It's also — for better and worse — never quite as grim as its grisly, sometimes gag-inducing action might suggest. Falling in between outright psychological combat and black comedy, Harpoon might flounder a bit without Gelman's ironic tone. One can feel Grant's relief at having this tool, and in the O. Henry-ish final scenes, he overuses it shamelessly. Not that many will complain, as these flawed former friends get what's coming to them, and then some.

Production company: 775 Media Corp
Distributor: Epic Pictures
Cast: Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray, Brett Gelman
Director-screenwriter-editor: Rob Grant
Producers: Julian Black Antelope, Kurtis David Harder, Michael Peterson
Executive producer: Laurie Venning
Director of photography: Charles Hamilton
Production designer: Tim Rutherford
Costume designer: Deitra Kalyn
Composer: Michelle Osis
Venue: Fantasia Film Festival

Rated R, 82 minutes