Published Oct 07, 2019A bottle movie is hard to pull off, and even more so when you're imbuing that tense energy with gleefully gory black comedy. But Harpoon manages to strike the right balance, as it takes three pitifully underprepared assholes, maroons them on a boat, and lets us watch as their relationships unravel in a manic, grisly spiral.
We open on rich bro Richard (Christopher Gray) beating the hell out of his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) after finding what he thinks is evidence of an affair between Jonah and Richard's girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra). Sasha, arriving to break up the beating, reveals that the text messages weren't salacious — they were actually about the surprise spear gun (not technically a harpoon, although it's this Chekhov's gun after which the film is named) Sasha and Jonah conspired together to buy for Richard's birthday.
As an apology, Richard offers to take Jonah and Sasha out for a day trip on his boat. Everything's going swimmingly until it becomes uncomfortably apparent that there is actually something between Sasha and Jonah, and the sexual tension immediately puts hot-tempered Richard on edge. Unfortunately, this is around the same time that a series of nautical misfortunes, as Harpoon's ironic, omniscient narrator (Brett Gelman, playing the same kind arch asshole he excels at in Stranger Things and Fleabag) informs us, renders the boat incapacitated, and the trio is stranded aboard with very little food, water or hope for rescue.
Harpoon is tightly written and plotted, precisely dispensing truth bombs and pieces of information via Gelman's wry narration. Things go south incredibly quickly for our threesome of mostly awful protagonists, and every bloody downturn, from a gangrenous arm to an old seafaring superstition about redheads (unluckily, Sasha is a redhead), raises the stakes infinitely higher until it's apparent that the only way out will be a gruesome one.
At its core, Harpoon isn't aiming for deep statements about the human condition, opting instead to spin a fun, bloody yarn. But Gray, Chambers and Tyra are good at giving their characters — selfish, cowardly and inept as they are — enough desperation and insecurity to make us feel for the increasingly grim situation they've found themselves in. Harpoon essentially functions as a three-act play as all three characters reveal long-withheld resentments and secrets as they float towards their doom.
Tonally, director Rob Grant aims for an arch sort of black comedy interspersed with Gelman's snark, giving way to a more straightforward, but no less brutal, type of horror film. When Harpoon ramps up to its conclusion, it's a bit of a silly, over-the-top, cartoonishly violent one. But the fun of watching Harpoon is in going along for the ride, regardless of where it takes us.