It all starts with a harpoon, a spear-like weapon used for fishing that can pierce flesh at astonishing speeds. So it makes sense to gift a harpoon to your friend with anger management issues, right? This is how Rob Grant’s newest film, Harpoon, opens, with a simple gift to an angry man. What ensues is a tale of resentment, friendship, and toxic masculinity on the open sea.
Richard (Christopher Gray), Jonah (Munro Chambers), and Sasha (Emily Tyra) are a trio of misfit friends with a rocky history. Richard is wealthy and has an extremely short temper, which was inherited from his father. Jonah is mopey and was constantly berated by his parents, until they died. Sasha, Richard’s girlfriend, is their reluctant caretaker who must play the referee between their antics. And we are introduced to this strange trio in a moment of violence: Richard beating Jonah’s face in while Sasha screams for him to stop all over a misunderstood text message. They explain they were texting about Richard’s birthday present, a harpoon with a mahogany handle.
To smooth it all over, Richard takes them all out of his family’s boat for a day of drinking, fishing, and laughter. But a day at sea isn’t a big enough bandaid to heal the festering wounds of these friendships. The tension builds and builds, and then the boat can’t start. The three are stranded in the middle of the ocean with no food, no gas, and a lot of anger. It only gets worse as the hunger and thirst kicks in (soft spoiler: they drink the blood of a seagull).
Harpoon’s effectiveness comes from the chemistry of its three characters. Their friendship feels genuine, one filled with some good times but a lot of bad times. Every interaction is brimming with tension, about to boil over like that pot of noodles you forgot about. Grant’s writing is able to portray that tension without the need for continuous flashbacks or over-explanation. He seamlessly creates convincing friendships full of resentment and grudges both through dialogue and the bone dry narration done by Bret Gelman.
The narration plays up the comedic factor of Harpoon and makes it play out like a nature documentary. Our narrator lays out each character and relationship matter-of-factly, passing no judgement or giving his opinion on the events at hand. He creates taxonomies and categories where each of these characters fit, from rich, entitled man to the incel nice guy. However, even within these taxonomies, the narrator creates nuance in explaining how each character was manipulated or abused in their childhood.
Yet these nuances do not excuse their horrific behavior and entitlement to Sasha’s body. Richard and Jonah compete in some kind of tragedy Olympics to show why they deserve Sasha’s love and attention. Meanwhile, Sasha watches on in astonishment and fury as the two men she thought she cared about talk about her like a piece of property. She has been their caretaker through each of their drunken mishaps and fights. She is their jaded mother figure who must comfort them and nurse their wounds no matter how hard it makes her eyes roll. But, while it could fall into a male-centered dick-measuring contest that throws Sasha to the side, Sasha becomes the focal point, a character fighting for her own agency in the face of overwhelming toxic masculinity.
Harpoon is a beautiful surprise. It is dark, violent, and disgusting, all qualities I expected going in. But what I didn’t expect was a thoughtful and nuanced critique of male entitlement to the female body and the damaging effect of toxic masculinity. Grant has created a fantastic piece of horror comedy that strikes a delicate balance between terror and hilarity that is supported by a talented cast. To put in bluntly, Harpoon is perhaps one of the best horror films of the year.