[Chattanooga Film Festival] Dark Comedy Skewers Friendship and Romance Alike in HARPOON

If horror–comedy fans are in the mood for claustrophobic situations in which friendships and romantic relationships are uneasily tested — with pitch-black humor and generous amounts of grue in strong supply — they need look no further than writer/director Rob Grant’s Harpoon. This sea-bound tale of jealousy and revenge keeps the barbs and brutality running at a high level.

Jonah (Munro Chambers of Turbo Kid (2015) and Knuckleball (2018) is down on his luck, having been the reason for his parents’ demise. Best friend Richard (Christopher Gray) is a hotheaded rich kid who beats Jonah bloody to kick off the film, because he suspected that his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) and Jonah were hooking up behind his back. When he learns that the reason for their recent secrecy was that they were planning to buy him a speargun (a running gag with the film’s title) for his birthday, he tries to make amends by taking them out for a day trip on his pleasure boat, The Naughty Buoy.

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With too much alcohol and tension, and too many mysteries, on board the boat, the three find themselves at constant odds, both before and after they find themselves stranded at sea with virtually no food or drinking water. Grant doesn’t hold back on the violence or bloodshed, so the three characters are often out to hurt one another, physically as well as mentally.

The strong suits of Harpoon are its razor-sharp dialogue, fine balance of unflinching tension and dark humor, and the terrific performances of the three leads and the narrator. Grant is masterful at writing jokes that cut to the bone, and he often delivers them at a rapid-fire pace here. He is also adept at helming films that have a dark heart, as evidenced by his previous effort, Alive (2018). Chambers, Gray, and Tyra are all more than up to the task, portraying their three characters with gusto and verve. Tyra’s Sasha is the most grounded of the trio, which isn’t saying much, considering that Gray’s Richard is violently set off by something as small as forgetting a computer password, and Munro’s Jonah has major problems best left for viewers to discover themselves. Comedian Brett Gelman serves as Harpoon’s omniscient narrator, delivering plenty of the jokes along with loads of dramatic irony and information about boating superstitions — the latter of which you can bet the characters are pushing their luck with.

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As good as the acting chops and dialogue are, Harpoon suffers in that none of its characters are likeable enough to side with during their multiple-day drifting. If everyone is a jerk, there’s no one to really root for, and no main comeuppance to hope for, which can make the proceedings a wallow in misery. Thankfully, the film doesn’t go quite that route.

Harpoon, from Yellow Veil Pictures, offers plenty to cheer about, if no characters to really cheer for. It’s a film that delivers laughs, uneasiness, and gore gags aplenty, and it should find a good deal of fans on its current film festival run.

HARPOON screened at Chattanooga Film Festival, which ran from April 11–14 at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee.