Much like the majority of other horror sub-genres, the slasher film is basically dead in America. I don’t mean dead in that it does not exist but dead in the fact that it has no life left in it. I know that I may be in the minority saying this as there are plenty of horror fans who have embraced the likes of Adam Green’s HATCHET films and/or some more underground fare like releases from Plotdigger Films, primarily Ryan Nicholson’s GUTTERBALLS (which I did enjoy, for the most part). However, for me, these films are too little too late. Rather than being genuine entries into the slasher sub-genre, they exist more so as tongue in cheek homages disguised as sincere horror efforts. Of course, this is rather subjective and you could shrug this off and label me as a pretentious, elitist prick that likes “artsy” foreign flicks more than “hardcore American horror” films from my home land. You would be wrong though, as I’m here to tell you that not EVERY foreign produced horror flick is gold and HARPOON is a damn good example of why that is.
HARPOON: WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE, is just that. A fucking massacre. Not only in content but in form as well. The film manages to be fairly standard without coming off as completely trite but at the same time buckles under the novelty of its concept. The idea of setting a slasher film on a boat is rather inspired, though not necessarily more inspired than setting one on a train (TERROR TRAIN) and the boat thing was sort of done recently in TRIANGLE, though that doesn’t really follow the archetypal slasher formula. What truly sets HARPOON apart from the others at all is its death scenes which, rightfully, have earned it the faint amount of praise that it has received.
I made mention of HARPOON being a foreign work, as it is. It hails from Iceland but is not entirely in a foreign language or even explicitly Icelandic in origin. The characters in the film are multi-cultural and spoken dialogue ranges from Icelandic to Japanese and even to English. So, yes, if you’re wondering, you SHOULD watch a subtitled version of this one. The culture clash between the characters is actually helped by the presence of different spoken languages and that would be all but lost in an English dub-track. Ok, so maybe I am a pretentious, elitist prick.
The aforementioned death sequences are clearly the highlight of the film and are the only reason I would recommend anyone seek it out at all, well, aside from the presence of Gunner fucking Hansen on screen, but that can only take a film so far. The deaths are inspired and brutally shown. This one definitely does not hold back and is worth seeking out the “unrated” version for, which is the version I watched. There is an R rated cut available and I have no idea how different they are, if much at all, but with the amount of gore on display here I would be surprised if it all got by the MPAA. In addition to the potent and plentiful red stuff (which I really don’t want to spoil) there is a surprising amount of sexual violence on screen. This is something that seems to be increasingly present in recent horror/slasher films both foreign and domestic, especially in the aforementioned GUTTERBALLS. The problem with it here is that it is not trash or exploitative (GUTTERBALLS) and it does not really serve any narrative purpose (like seen in A SERBIAN FILM). Rather, it seems like it is just there for the sake of being there almost as if it is another death scene. It is handled really sloppily and perhaps even irresponsibly as the instigator seems to enjoy it and practically get away with it. I’m not easily offended, far from actually. But scenes of unnecessary sexual violence are not only disgusting but are cheap and lazy attempts at shock value and in this instance it is used freely and without and obvious purpose. But then again, I could argue the same about the majority of the film.
Which brings us to that. The script here is blatantly uninspired. The dialogue and exosition exist to string together a bunch of deaths, which, as stated before, the film does rather well. However, the script is so poor that it feels as if the filmmakers shot a bunch of awesome death sequences and decided to assemble a feature film out of them, therefore making a script a last priority. Sorry, but a bunch of great death sequences with no true context is not rewarding, regardless of how much your audience loves gore. To the director’s credit (Julius Kemp), the film looks great. It appears to have been shot on film, but I cannot confirm that. He does not seem to have any previous horror credits but according to IMDB has made an erotic film. Can’t say this gives me any incentive to seek that one out, but I’d imagine the sex scenes at least look good.
HARPOON is a wasted attempt at making a slasher film on a novel location and with an international set of characters. It has potential to be something far better than what it is but suffers due to the limits of its script and one of its greatest strengths: the novel concept it has to work with. The death scenes are great and I can imagine some less discerning viewers having a great time with this but it was too small a fraction of a greater whole to leave me satisfied. If Mr. Kemp makes another horror film than I’d likely give it a watch as he certainly has a style worth watching out for, but I’ll definitely keep my expectations in check.