Harpoon (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Friendship of Survival

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“Harpoon” is a little entertaining film which often strikes us with nasty plot turns generated between a few characters stuck in a small limited setting. The main pleasure of the movie comes from how deftly it pulls out a number of good moments of shock and surprise, and I recommend you not to read the following paragraphs, especially if you are already interested in watching it and want to enjoy it as much as possible.

When we are introduced to its three main characters at the beginning, they are going through a problematic circumstance, and the narration by Brett Gelman sarcastically explains to us their respective current statuses one by one. While Jonah (Munro Chambers) is having a difficult time after his parents recently died due to an unfortunate car accident and only left him in a financial mess, his rich friend Richard (Christopher Gray) is quite angry as suspecting that something is going on between Jonah and Sasha (Emily Tyra), who is Richard’s girlfriend in addition to being a sort of mediator between Jonah and Richard.

When Sasha arrives at Jonah’s house to take care of the situation, Richard has already beaten Jonah pretty hard as furiously accusing Jonah of having sex with Sasha, but then Jonah and Sasha tell Richard that the seemingly suspicious text messages exchanged between them were just about a surprise present for Richard’s upcoming birthday. Richard quickly regrets his impulsive act of violence on Jonah, and he subsequently takes Jonah and Sasha to his big boat and then tries to have some nice time along with them on the sea, but Jonah and Sasha demand that Richard should do more than that for compensating for what he did to them.

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Richard reluctantly follows Jonah and Sasha’s demand for making them feel a bit better, and we accordingly get some good laughs from that, but the mood still remains to be tense while the boat is now quietly floating somewhere far from the land. The birthday present for Richard happens to be a harpoon, and we instantly sense a trouble as Richard casually wields his birthday present in front of his two friends. It looks like he is still suspecting them, and then….

I will not go into details here on what happens next, but it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the three main characters of the film subsequently find themselves in a circumstance far worse than they thought at first. As they become more and more desperate, a certain idea gradually comes upon them, and the movie has a wry little fun when a couple of grisly tales of survival are mentioned at one point. It seems they should be ready to do anything in the name of survival, but they understandably hesitate in front of that dire possibility, and then the situation becomes more urgent as one of them comes to suffer a serious medical condition.

While pushing its main characters into more despair and desperation as required, the screenplay by director/writer Rob Grant, who also did the editing for the film, keeps engaging us via the increasingly unstable relationship dynamics among its three main characters, and we accordingly get a series of darkly funny moments, which mainly come from the constantly shifting allegiance among them. There is an absurd and hilarious moment as they come to be a bit more honest to each other thank to a bottle of booze, and then there is also an unnerving moment when a certain inconvenient fact is brought up while they happen to argue with each other for petty reasons. As observing their unpleasant sides from the distance, we do not care that much about them, but we still pay attention to what is being at stake among them, and we wonder about what will eventually happen at the end of the story.

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Thanks to its succinct and efficient storytelling, the movie maintains its narrative pacing fairly well during its short running time (83 minutes), and it smoothly moves from one situation to another until it arrives at the eventual finale, which fits well with the sardonic overall tone of the film despite a rather distracting plot contrivance. While mostly confined in its small limited space, the movie seldom feels stuffy thanks to the good efforts of Grant’s crew members including cinematographer Charles Hamilton, and its competent technical aspects are commendable on the whole considering its small production budget.

Like any other good thriller films driven by characters, the movie relies a lot on its main cast members, who are all effective in their respective roles and really feel like three different people who have known each other for years. While Christopher Gray is relatively showier as your average rich jerk, Munro Chambers and Emily Tyra are equally fine as ably conveying to us how much Jonah and Sasha have tolerated Richard just because of what they respectively need from him, and they and Gray are particularly excellent when their characters eventually arrive at a dreaded moment of hard decision, which is pretty intense for the grim logic of their situation.

Overall, “Harpoon” is a modest but competent genre piece which does its job as well as intended, and it is worthwhile to watch for its skillful handling of mood and narrative. Yes, its story idea is simple and familiar to the core, but Grant and his crew and cast members succeeds in keeping their film floating on the water from the beginning to the end, and I certainly had a fun time while alternatively amused and jolted by its naughty plot turns.

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