“Comedy as dark as the surrounding ocean depths.”
Sailors have always been a superstitious group. Among the long list of bad omens are: sailing on a Friday; red hair; and people named Jonah. So, when one of our protagonist’s suggests to their red-haired girlfriend and bitter old friend, who just so happens to be called Jonah, that they go sailing on a Friday, disaster really was inevitable.
Harpoon begins with our narrator (Brett Gelman) paraphrasing Aristotle’s definition of friendship. Apparently, there are three stages: useful acquaintance, appreciation, and the deeper bond of “best friend”. He then goes on to add a fourth level, that of an old friendship that limps on more out of formality than any actual lingering affection. This provides some insight to our main protagonists, whose friendship has a strong undercurrent of disdain. It’s the type of relationship that may have stood strong in college but which has now been eroded down by waves of betrayal, jealousy and violence, until it’s crumbled to a pile of resentment. An example of this dynamic comes in the first five minutes where we’re introduced to our protagonists mid-brawl. Jonah (Munro Chambers) opens the door to his enraged friend Richard (Christopher Gray) and is greeted by a blow to the face by him. While Richard continues to beat Jonah’s face to a pulp, his girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra), charges in to break-up the fight. We quickly learn of each character through the narration – Jonah is grieving his recently deceased parents who he had a shaky relationship with and is now dealing with their debt; Richard is a typical hot-head, trust-fund yuppie; and Sasha acts as the groups mother and referee. We learn the spark of Richard’s rage this time was the discovery of messages between Jonah and Sasha that suggest an affair. Sasha rebuttals this by revealing they were actually about Richard’s surprise birthday present – a harpoon (or spear gun, the title is challenged throughout the film). In efforts to try amend his actions, Richard treats the others to a day trip on his yacht. However, the trip isn’t smooth sailing thanks to secret revelations, lethal fury, and a boat engine that won’t turn back on. Stranded with nothing but their mistrust of one another, their boat trip progresses from a fight of treachery to a fight for survival.
The interweaving relationship of of this group is played brilliantly by the cast. Though the knot between the characters has clearly loosened, they are still held together by their secrets. With each revelation, our perception of these characters alter, yet the transition is smooth thanks to the great acting and thoughtful writing. These characters could have easily fallen into stereotypes but their careful construction keeps them afloat in this story.
Our narrator was a particular highlight throughout the film. Voiced by Gelman, best known for his role as the slimy brother-in-law in Fleabag, he provided witty narration as sharp as the titularly disputed harpoon. Representing a sort of omnipresence – a sly Lemony Snicket – the narrator added an extra layer of hilarity along with insights to these characters. There’s a fine art to writing necessary narration and without Gelman’s role, this film would have missed something really special.
Harpoon’s playful relationship with violence is delightful, starting off as an “even-stevens” venture of punching for pay-backs and soon mounting to thrillingly gruesome results. And thanks to the dark comedy lilt, even the most horrifying moments have an edge of wit. Harpoon’s comedy is as dark as the surrounding ocean depths. However, the comedy does not take away from the horror of this film; when Harpoon wants to hit hard, it strikes with perfect accuracy.
For a story almost entirely restricted to an adrift boat with only three real characters, Harpoon does a great job of never seeming tedious or drawn-out. Whether it’s exploring the depths of their characters’ motivations or simply watching them beat on each other, this film provides exactly what an audience needs and provides twists that hit with the strength of tsunamis.
Dir.: Rob Grant
Writer: Rob Grant and Mike Kovac
Cast: Brett Gelman, Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray
Prod: 775 Media Corp
Distribution in UK: Arrow Films