Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #171
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 10 May 2010 (UK)
Country of Origin: Iceland
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Júlíus Kemp
Producers: Mike Downey, Gisli Gislason, Jukka Helle, Katy Moylan, Markus Selin, Sam Taylor, Ingvar Þórðarson
Screenplay: Sjón Sigurdsson
Special Effects: Haukur Karlsson
Cinematography: Jean-Noël Mustonen
Score: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson
Editing: Sigurbjorg Jonsdottir
Studio: Icelandic Filmcompany, The, Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME), Solar Films
Distributor: Image Entertainment (US), E1 Entertainment (UK)
Stars: Pihla Viitala, Nae, Terence Anderson, Miranda Hennessy, Aymen Hamdouchi, Carlos Takeshi, Miwa Yanagizawa, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Snorri Engilbertsson, Helgi Björnsson, Gunnar Hansen, Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir, Kristinn Agust Fridfinnsson
Suggested Audio Blubber
Björk “It’s Oh So Quiet”
It must be a tough break being Icelandic. Not what you would call the most prolific nation when it comes to all things horror, there wasn’t a single example of the genre to speak of until Júlíus Kemp broke their duck. Harpoon, or Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre to use its original title, represents a proud first. To mark the momentous occasion the legendary Gunnar Hansen was recruited and any film bearing a title containing the word massacre and including old Leatherface on its cast list must surely be onto a winner right?
Here’s the thing. Harpoon tries, it really does have a crack. Any rookie mistakes from Kemp are overlooked out of pure admiration for the guy for carrying the Icelandic horror hopes on his shoulders. Kudos indeed. Another humongous positive would be that this is unlike any other movie but therein lays my issue. It’s so utterly preposterous and uneven that most of the running time is spent scratching your noggin. Whilst good that it evokes that kind of a response, by the time you reach the 90th minute totally bamboozled, you aren’t sure whether to applaud or bash your head repeatedly against the nearest brick wall.
Kemp would surely grab the undesirable award for the most repugnant group of racial stereotypes ever crammed into a piece of fiction. We have the Japanese tourists all playing very much to the boilerplate, an obnoxious hip-flask swigging Frenchman wearing one of Inspector Clouseau’s last season offshoots, the self-important hateful bitch, the obligatory black dude and the hoity-toity well-to-do madams who cluck like battery hens and Gunnar Hansen in a role small enough it would fit in Stuart Little’s back pocket. Ta-da. Oh I nearly forgot hapless Annette (Pihla Viitala) who has to endure all manner of horrendous ordeals at the hands of virtually everyone she crosses paths with.
This global hotchpotch of objectionable douche-baskets set sail in the hope of catching glimpse of the hulking mammals of the title on a vessel named the Poseidon. If ever there was a clue that a voyage was headed for downright catastrophe then this surely is it and, true to form, it all goes bosoms-aloft for the seafaring simpletons no sooner than anchor is raised. Before you know it the body count is growing by the trawl-load. This brings the first clue that Kemp has something pretty unique in mind and it continues throughout as Harpoon refuses to conform to the norm, with outlandish results.
The remaining survivors or ‘catch of the day’ aren’t dealt with in the normal box-ticking way and, instead, we don’t have any clue as to who we’ll be rooting for come the end. Story arcs take the most unexpected turns and this is a real ace up Kemp’s sleeve as so much of what we are seeing is otherwise uninspired. It’s these moments, no matter how kooky, which convince you to keep that frown upside down and it is for that same reason that I couldn’t be too hard on Harpoon, no matter how alluring that may be.
The threat to our minnows comes courtesy of the usual bludgeoning brood, a dotty mother duck, whimpering son and his more composed brother, along with a couple of other loons whose involvement is as vague as it is ridiculous. This motley crew make just as many errors as their victims, they bicker, scream unnecessary racial slurs and just about do enough to convince us that they share a bloodline. It is Helgi Björnsson who stands out and he has the face of a man who would freely lasso stray geese using your intestines.
The dispatches are as much of a mixed bunch as the quarry and range from brutal and effective to death by whale-skitching, need I say more. There is one utterly delightful kill which comes courtesy of an oversized deck-mounted harpoon which charts the trajectory of the iron projectile from the POV of the quarry, which is simply inspired. A three-way flaming kebab is another standout and the injury detail alone is enough for you to order your steak rare from now on. Like everything else in Harpoon, the slayings are all over the place but, on the whole, there’s more than enough to have less discerning gorehounds clapping like seals.
If you’re a stickler for plot and dialogue then this film is the equivalent of a plateful of raw blubber. Some of the lines which spew forth from the protagonists would have been antiquated back in the eighties and Kemp won’t be likely to win any awards for his screenplay. Regardless of these potentially crippling flaws, Harpoon’s 90 minute runtime screams past and that is testament to just how off-the-wall the film actually is. Many slashers struggle to fill far more meager duration and that just isn’t the case here so, in that respect, it’s job done.
As I mentioned earlier, to be too hard on this film would be akin to kicking a new-born puppy as it is, after all, the first Icelandic slasher in existence. Your enjoyment ultimately rests on whether or not you can completely suspend disbelief and take it for exactly what it is… beyond ludicrous. There are high points and the speared body dangling aside the vessel throughout the film is one such inspired moment. Despite these occasional flashes of ingenuity and an intriguing rendition of Björk’s It’s Oh So Quiet, Harpoon is unlikely to start an Icelandic horror revolution any time soon.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Aside from the mercurial harpooning and triple skewering, heads roll, hammers splat, chopsticks ventilate and Gunnar Hansen replays one of our favorite scenes from The Omen. The kills range from inspired to preposterous but, for the most part, the grue is handled relatively well. On the skin front, Pihla Viitala spends much of her screen time in very little but, the fact that she is enduring the most heinous molestation on all fronts, suggests that none but the most morally questionable will find any cause for titillation.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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