Movie Review: ‘Harpoon’

Review by Jay Bowman

Harpoon is a tight, evenly balanced grotesque black comedy the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. It has a small cast—just three characters and an unseen narrator—and zero supernatural elements supporting its horror. I’m not sure what makes it feel so refreshing to me: that it’s rooted firmly in reality or that writer/director Rob Grant (with some help from Mike Kovac) successfully paced the funny and fucked-up without the tonal shifts feeling jarring in the least.

The first character our omniscient narrator (Brett Gelman) introduces us to is Jonah (played by Munro Chambers). He’s a pitiable burnout who had a poor upbringing and never seems to get what he wants. His friend Richard (Christopher Gray) has led a life of wealth and privilege, with his only problem being the occasional violent outburst. Often acting as the mediator between the two is Sasha (Emily Tyra), Richard’s girlfriend and an all-around good egg. After reading texts that lead him to believe Sasha and Jonah had a fling, Richard does the friendly thing and beats poor Jonah to a pulp. Sasha convinces her charming boyfriend that the whole situation was a misunderstanding and, realizing he erred, Richard makes it up to the gang by taking them out on his boat for a day trip. Naturally, things go wrong when Jonah lets slip something that should have been kept secret, and things quickly unravel from there until everyone knows the dirt on everyone else and the limits of friendship are tested to absurd extremes.

It’s a comedy of escalating tragedies. When the boat engine appears to fail, the group goes through the cycle of wanting to kill each other and needing each other to survive, again and again, spilling more secrets and elevating the tension as the days pass. But the timing is what makes the story work so well. Comedy always finds a way, in even the direst circumstances. They’re small moments, with jokes sometimes set up by the narrator between scenes, but it’s enough to keep you off guard for when things get grisly in the third act. It’s also worth noting that the underlying story eventually evolves into something beyond mere survival, with ever-changing truths questioning who, if anyone, is being honest.

The performances are great all around. If we’re to imagine the group as a comedy trio, Sasha would be the straight man: between Richard’s paranoia and predilection towards violence, as well as Jonah’s totally pathetic and passive nature, she has to be the voice of reason. Emily Tyra perfectly captures the essence of an exasperated woman who knows she deserves better but may not know how to go about getting it. She moves easily and naturally from taking control of a situation to becoming almost hostage-like between the two men she’s with as they fight one another for reasons big and petty. Her role in the group is the only one that remains close to constant; Richard bounces between dominating jerk and wizened captain while Jonah, always appearing the weakest of the bunch, makes carefully measured use of his friend’s dark past to try and keep him in place. As hope becomes more elusive and the situation direr, it breaks down into a grim, violent bid for control between the two men.

Harpoon is a great character-focused film that takes place in its own little world. Good use is made of the ship despite how small it looks; it never feels cheap, nor do its limitations become distracting. Traditional horror fans may be turned off by the lack of spooky stuff, but the pure tension of the scenario our flawed and fractured trio find themselves in, to say nothing of the violent acts they commit against one another, is more than enough to make you squirm in your seat.


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