Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (UK DVD)
Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Julius Kemp
Starring Pihla Viitala, Nae, Terence Anderson, Gunnar Hansen
Distributed by E1 Entertainment
With a title such as Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, it's quite obvious that Julius Kemp’s new horror flick is wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve. I’ve been quite vocal in the past regarding the fact that sterling influences gladly presented doth not a good movie make, and this remains solidly true. Happily, though, Harpoon (or abbreviated to RWWM as it will likely be in the US) throws in enough of its own quirky personality to make it a worthy watch.
The film tells the tale of a group of truly international tourists (we have Americans, Japanese, French and more!) who take off for a whale watching tour in the waters around – you guessed it – Reykjavik. After a while of failing to see any whales whatsoever, the antics of the bored and drunken Frenchman cause the captain (Gunnar Hansen, woefully underused) to sustain a fatal injury.
Simultaneously, the first mate is in the process of attempting to rape Annette (Pihla Viitala). When he’s interrupted and discovers the state of the captain, he abruptly jumps ship and takes off in the only lifeboat. Stranded, the group come into contact with a nearby vessel – the denizens of which promise to take them all to safety.
It’s a pity for them, then, that the mother and sons trio who captain the ship are a family of psychotics that love to fill their time gleefully killing off foreigners; and it doesn’t take long after they arrive on deck for the blood to flow.
One of the first things you’ll notice as the story begins to move in Harpoon is just how eminently unlikable the vast majority of the characters are. While most conventional films would introduce characters in a negative light and allow their arc to redeem them, Kemp’s film does the opposite with a number of characters actually getting more and more mercenary as death closes in. Marianne (Miranda Hennessy) is a prime example of this, starting off appearing as a potential protagonist and gradually devolving to a “fuck ‘em all” self-absorbed bitch and one of the most hated screen personalities I’ve seen recently. This kind of unexpected arc isn’t restricted only to her character with most of those involved attempting to get one up on everyone else to ensure their own survival.
Meanwhile, Viitala’s Annette is one of the most unlucky characters I’ve seen – having to endure an early attempted rape, further trapping and abuse from our crazy sailors and an ultimate fate that will have you laughing at the sheer level of celestial cruelty this poor girl is put through. In the end you’ll likely end up very surprised at not only who survives but also why they do. Saying any more would spoil some big surprises.
Unlikable characters are usually the death knell for a slasher flick, but in Harpoon the choices of these individuals come across as quite real. Very few are interested in helping strangers for the sake of it and risking their own demise. Alongside this the film runs with a strong undercurrent of humour which, when it works, lends a perfectly lighthearted sheen to the proceedings and prevents it from becoming the type of heavy horror flick that would require a more consistent level of likable people to be successful. While Tobe Hooper’s seminal massacre might be an obvious influence, Harpoon has its tongue much more firmly planted in its cheek.
Things don’t always work well, though, and the quirkiness of the flick can be quite difficult to settle into. Some of the intended humour misses the mark but never far enough to cause major damage. The kill scenes are well executed and pack some nice gore, including a spurting decapitation, head-splosion, slit throat, an actual deck-mounted harpooning (hell yeah!) and more. Despite this, the villains are actually one of the weakest elements with the elder brother of the trio being the only one that we would believe could pose much of a physical threat to the dominant males in our tourist group.
Harpoon is well shot and directed with some impressively stark images (really love the image of the harpooned body hanging off the front of the ship) and even some very dark scenes remaining easily discernable. It isn’t a completely fulfilling experience in the end and certainly won’t set your world on fire (or make you erupt like the recent Icelandic volcano activity), but Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is definitely worth checking out if you’re willing to lay back and go along with the unexpected callousness of some characters’ actions. You’ll either be pleasantly surprised by the turns or hate every minute. Some more time with Gunnar Hansen would have been nice, too!
E1 Entertainment’s DVD release of the film is presented suitably well both visually and audibly for home exhibition, but it unfortunately contains no special features whatsoever. Skeletal.
3 out of 5
0 out of 5
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