If you’re a cynical blackhearted comedy fan, Rob Grant’s Harpoon is your “Catch Of The Day.” At an airtight seventy minutes and change, this dangerously dysfunctional yachting expedition is meaner than your least favorite aunt after three too many glasses of wine. Exquisitely paced to surface tensions early, often, and volcanically. Brett Gelman’s blank-filler narration humorously keys viewers in on the necessary details, never bothering with information to be considered non-essential. Pointed like a sharpened spear tipped with toxic machoisms – just add water, weapons, and stranded isolation where tempers are inescapable.
Hot-headed “richy” Richard (Christopher Gray) and sad-sack Jonah (Munro Chambers) are longstanding chums. Sasha (Emily Tyra) is Richard’s girlfriend and squad mediator. Richard thinks Sasha and Jonah are cheating together, so he beats Jonah senseless one morning. Sasha confirms any “implicating” text messages are referencing a wooden-detailed harpoon the duo purchased for Richard’s birthday. As a means of atonement, Richard readies his luxury vessel “The Naughty Buoy” for a day at sea full of partying, groveling, and “making things right.” Then the engine burns out, and three already on-edge companions are tested by truths none are ready to hear.
Aesthetically, Harpoon and Olly Blackburn’s Donkey Punch would make an inspired “privileged horrors at sea” double feature. Grant’s mechanical lockdown a bit more accomplished in terms of scripted complications versus Blackburn’s stranger-danger warfare. What transpires between Richard, Jonah, and Sasha is perversely playful and outwardly unfiltered. With death imminent, cordiality vanishes while dehydration and famished appetites push survivors into a state of delirious personality limbo where anything goes. Richard’s fly-off-the-handle outbursts already make for heated wild card moments, but that’s honestly Grant’s least unusual method of shock value torture. Physical abuse is one thing, yet it’s the mental games in motion that propel Harpoon.
Sequences sinfully expose the complexities of friendships in their various stages. As Gelman informs, there are multiple stages of attachment from “Utility” to “Pleasure” to “Good.” Those acquaintances we strike for practical tradeoffs versus codependent relationships between two people with evolved mutual respect. Harpoon ponders what’d happen if three such assumed “Good” allies unknowingly triggered a time bomb primed to blow their foundation to smithereens. Disappointment morphs into confusion, anger blows past closure and begets self-healing mockery. Fighting would wastefully deplete energy when more significant problems exist – but lasting damage can’t be ignored. It’s the ultimate character study as only a genre film splattered blood-and-sunburnt red can elicit, doubling down on volatility while remaining so destructively human to an aching degree.
Here’s the issue: my blind jackknife into Harpoon’s uncharted waters meant everything to this critic’s indulgent consumption of seafaring intimacy horrors. Harpoon benefits from knowing zilch going in, so I’m in a bit of a snafu. What can I say about this razor-wired homage to “Richard Parker” and sailors’ superstitions? What should be left a mystery? I incline to go no farther than what’s been alluded to already: three corroded souls, oceanic floating without rescue, and karma’s moodiest swings.
Christopher Gray, Emily Tyra, and Munro Chambers tie chemistry in knots of the most poisonous coating. Gray, an American Psycho type, entitled by money and a father who erases problems with Mafioso execution. Tyra a spitfire trophy vixen half motivated by competition, the other half fear. Chambers plays the downtrodden and dependable partner who’s desensitized by familial tragedy, aka a literal punching bag. Three complimentary pieces exaggerated by Gelman’s dissection from a God-like viewpoint. Characters play games of “getting even,” demanding “reparations” for actions in the form of unblocked punches, but even in these moments, there’s trust behind primal furies. Performances chew through empty cabin scenery, are endlessly entertaining, and most importantly, always keep a killshot holstered. Purity as brawls lead to uneasy but calm banter about otherwise taboo subjects – wits-end players who captain a doomed and despicable voyage.
Genre elements heighten an otherwise rapid-fire descent into argumentative purgatory. Sasha’s referencing of Edgar Allen Poe and The Life Of Pie is a hint at sustenance harvesting, while Richard’s knuckles remain bruised from pummelings. Is it called “Harpoon” for a reason (even though it should be titled “Speargun”)? Maybe. Think Very Bad Things but wetter; a succession of unfortunate events brought upon by relationships thought to be “Good” yet proven otherwise. Drunken reminiscing, scabby infections, bodily leakage – common anarchy aboard Richard’s otherwise romanticized personal cruiser. That’s all before Act III kicks your teeth in and watches you squirm.
Harpoon is one nasty fishhook that’s impossible to yank out, pulling at emotional wounds that only ever worsen. I’d say Rob Grant aims to displease, but you can tell he enjoys submerging his characters deeper into a bottomless pool of seething hatred. Humans are complicated beasts, especially when predetermined social constructs fall wayside. Notice also how nothing happens at night, just only under blinding sunshine shot with vacation mood deconstruction? Grant is out here churning the waters of decency, and what an unpredictably bloodsoaked wave it is to ride.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
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