Rivalries, dark secrets, and sexual tension crash together in Rob Grant’s Harpoon, a taut and delightfully dark comedic thriller. The film follows three friends who venture out on a yacht for a day trip, only to find themselves stranded in the ocean and at each other’s throats.
Harpoon explores friendship and the strains we put on our relationships. It makes us question the nature and history of our personal connections and why we choose to maintain them.
The film’s three leads – Richard (Christopher Gray), his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra), and best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) – are stuck in an everlasting cycle of enabling bad behavior. An opening statement in the narration — provided brilliantly by Brett Gelman — describes Aristotle’s philosophy of the three kinds of friendship; friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of the good. Through the film, it becomes clear that Richard, Sasha, and Jonah don’t exactly fit into any of these three categories.
They exist in a vacuum of their own nastiness, constantly pushing and pulling at each other in a way that shows their sickened dependence. While this collaborative friendship is truly toxic for everyone involved, it creates one hell of a compelling film.
For a film with only one set and three characters, Harpoon works surprisingly well thanks to its tight direction by Grant and excellent chemistry between the cast. Most notably, Chambers delivers a razor-sharp performance as Jonah, carving through each emotional scene with impressive precision.
Tyra is excellent as Sasha, the exasperated referee between her boyfriend and his best friend. While she holds an air of righteousness, she’s far from saintly herself. Gray is perfect as Richard, bringing life and humanity to a detestable character. The three work together in brilliant harmony to create a group of deeply flawed individuals with a friendship that walks the line between love and loathing.
As the film progresses, the boat begins to match the unraveling minds of our poor castaways; the lower deck goes from cozy to crazed thanks to a shifting set design. The lighting moves between painfully bright and depressingly low, but it’s done in a way that expresses the extremes that the characters experience without compromising the shot; scenes are washed with yellows and blues to impose a tone.
The script is wickedly clever with a delightful streak of dark humor. Gelman’s pitch-perfect narration provides some additional details about the characters and their situation, while lightly bumping up the tone of the film to keep it from getting too horrifically bleak. But don’t let the smooth, dulcet tones of Gelman’s voice distract you – Harpoon is sinfully dark and deeply satisfying.
Writers Rob Grant and Mike Kovac have found the perfect balance of comedy and intensity to really make the film click. There’s a building pressure that keeps the pace moving, driving the story forward despite the stagnant scenery. It’s like the ultimate bottle episode, taking full advantage of the creative liberties that can be found within that isolated focus.
The film pushes just enough to satisfy the audience’s desire for depravity while showing enough restraint to not go completely off the rails. It keeps one sea-shaky leg in the realm of realism while the other dances a mad dervish of disastrous worst-case scenarios.
Effectively, Harpoon raises some questions about the minefield of relationships. Is personal history enough to keep friends together? How dangerously close have we come to permanently damaging our friendships? When a bond has been broken, can it ever be repaired?
Once you’ve seen the worst in someone, can you ever go back?
The answers aren’t as simple as you’d think.
Harpoon is a bubbling ocean of deep resentment, dark comedy, and maritime superstitions gone awry. From the script to the direction, the performances, and the plot, it’s sharp, powerful, and deadly. If you have the opportunity, I’d recommend you take the shot.
Harpoon is playing as part of Fantasia Festival’s 2019 lineup. For an interview with writer/director Rob Grant, click here. Or click here to read our interview with one of the stars of the film, Munro Chambers.