VOD film review: Harpoon
Brett Gelman's narration8.5
Increasingly dark twists9
Matthew Turner | On 02, Nov 2019
Director: Rob Grant
Cast: Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray, Brett Gelman
Watch Harpoon online in the UK: Arrow Video
Written and directed by Rob Grant, this sharply scripted trapped-on-a-boat thriller delivers suspense, gore and twists galore, laced with jet-black humour. One of the highlights of the 2019 FrightFest film festival, it’s a hugely entertaining horror that deserves to find a large audience.
The story opens with spiky narration from Fleabag’s Brett Gelman, which instantly sets the blackly comic tone. When wealthy, entitled Richard (Christopher Gray) discovers suspicious texts from his girlfriend ,Sasha (Emily Tyra), to his best friend, Jonah (Munro Chambers), his explosive temper leads to him battering his long-suffering buddy, until Sasha points out that the texts were only because they were conspiring to buy him a harpoon for his birthday.
With that misunderstanding cleared up, Richard invites Sasha and Jonah to join him on his motorboat, The Naughty Buoy (which they pronounce boo-ey, ruining the joke) to test out his new speargun. However, their collective paranoia, jealousy and sexual tension quickly turn to violence once again, which only intensifies when the boat breaks down and they realise they’re stranded, without a working radio or adequate provisions.
Grant’s perfectly constructed script (with “additional writing” by Mike Kovac) is packed with increasingly dark twists, gradually layering in character information and background detail and keeping the audience constantly guessing as to where the story is going. Brett Gelman’s narration is consistently amusing, especially when he includes diverting asides, such as laying out all the instances of bad luck the trio have incurred – setting sail on a Friday, going to sea with someone called Jonah, etc.
Considering all three main characters are so profoundly unlikeable, the actors do a terrific job of keeping them interesting and watchable, even if you’re not exactly rooting for any of them to survive. Chambers is particularly good as Jonah, giving him an intriguingly offbeat edge, while the audience is cleverly wrong-footed into finding him the most ostensibly sympathetic character because of his initial introduction, in which he’s beaten up.
Grant maintains tight control of the tone, slowly ratcheting up the tension and ensuring that each sudden shift or escalation takes the audience by surprise. To that end, there are a couple of suitably nasty gore moments and the film goes to some very dark places. The film is strikingly shot by cinematographer Charles Hamilton, who makes excellent use of the film’s single location, while accentuating the perversely relaxing blues of the sea and sky.
Throughout, there are shades of classic trapped-on-a-boat pictures such as Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962) and Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989), as well as other boat-based survival movies like Adrift (2018) and Open Water (2003). However, the combination of the knowing script and the blackly comic tone leave Harpoon feeling fresh and original. The result is a supremely entertaining and deeply satisfying horror flick that has future cult classic written all over it.
Harpoon is available to watch online on Arrow Video as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription. The platform is available through Amazon Prime Video Channels, as an add-on subscription to your existing account, and through the Apple TV app.