Harpoon

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Harpoon
"Held together by three impressive performances, with Tyra the standout, Harpoon deftly plays with audience assumptions and sympathies, exploiting our prejudices as each character gradually reveals hitherto unseen depths." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

The first thing one learns from watching Harpoon is that there are an awful lot of things that it's bad luck to do on a boat. Let me add one more. Never be out on a yacht with friends and lovers in a part of the sea where few ships go by, in a film - especially one screening at a festival like Fantasia. It never ends well.

Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra) and Richard (Christopher Gray) have been friends for as long as any of them can remember. It's one of those situations that has come to feel so normal that they assume it must be right, despite Richard's intermittent bouts of violence, Jonah's general ability to screw things up and Sasha's frustration with looking after them both. She and Richard are dating and have been for some time but he suspects Jonah of having an interest in her too, and possibly of having done something about it. This results in the sort of violent beating that, after the situation is explained, seems to merit a proper apology - so, spoiled rich boy that he is, Richard decides that they should all enjoy a day's leisurely cruise on his yacht.

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Things don't even start well.

Narrated by the delightfully droll Brett Gelman, Rob Grant's twisty little thriller quickly shows us the darker side of its ostensibly charming young characters, but the initial violence is nothing to what will come later - nor is it the most serious of their problems. When the boat won't start and no-one answers the radio, they realise they're stranded. They're not in a shipping lane. Spoiled rich boys don't bother dong boring things like restocking flares or even food supplies. And Jonah has an obviously infected hand that's getting worse by the day.

Here we take a moment to reflect on Edgar Allan Poe's novel involving marooned mariners,The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and its eerie similarities to the subsequent real life tragedy that befell the English yacht Mignonette. In a film already laden with superstition, its similarity to the circumstances in which our protagonists find themselves takes on extra weight. Grant has a lot of fun with this both directly and through exploring the impact of superstition and suggestion on the stranded trio. The dialogue is sharp as broken glass, the comedy as black as Jonah's hand is turning.

Held together by three impressive performances, with Tyra the standout, Harpoon deftly plays with audience assumptions and sympathies, exploiting our prejudices as each character gradually reveals hitherto unseen depths. Although there's a sense that everything here might be preordained, nothing is what it seems. We never find out how the narrator comes to know the story; in accepting him as omniscient, we might ask ourselves just how much we can really rely on the accounts given by the survivors of the Mignonette.

Perhaps the answer lies in Davy Jones' locker.

Reviewed on: 28 Jul 2019
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Harpoon packshot
Rivalries, dark secrets, and sexual tension emerge when three best friends find themselves stranded on a yacht in the middle of the ocean under suspicious circumstances.

Director: Rob Grant

Writer: Rob Grant, Mike Kovac

Starring: Munro Chambers, Emily Tyra, Christopher Gray

Year: 2019

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Canada


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