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Although awkwardly titled, “Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre” certainly delivers on its billing, being a film which is indeed about visitors to Iceland being murdered while on a whale spotting trip. The film from director Júlíus Kemp (also responsible for the equally intriguingly titled “Wallpaper: An Erotic Love Story”) is actually the country’s first proper exploitation genre release, something which surely marks it as being of interest for horror fans, as does the fact that it was written by Sjón Sigurdsson, a noted Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist who works regularly with Björk and who collaborated with Lars Von Trier on “Dancer in the Dark”. Following a successful run at festivals and having garnered positive word of mouth, the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via E1 Entertainment.
The plot is pretty generic stuff, with the usual “Texas Chainsaw” style rural slaughter being transported to the chilly seas as a bunch of tourists run into trouble after the captain of their whale watching boat (Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface himself in a brief though welcome appearance) dies in a bizarre accident. Help arrives in the form of a boat piloted by the scruffy looking man (Helgi Björnsson), who instead of taking them to the nearest port as expected, ships them to his own vessel, where his murderous mother (Gudrun Gisladottir) and perverted, insane religious freak brother (Stefan Jonsson) are waiting with sharp implements at the ready.
“Harpoon” really is a mixed bag, and one which delivers in fits and starts. On the plus side, the cinematography from Finnish cinematographer Jean Noel Mustonen is superb, with director Kemp making the most of the bleak seas and grey skies to atmospheric effect. The film’s melancholy soundtrack by composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson is also impressive, nicely underscoring the action and making for some moody and oddly affecting scenes. On technical terms, the film does generally score highly, and is well directed, with a professional, yet gritty look. Although Kemp does drop the ball during quite a few of the scare scenes, he has the sense to throw in plenty of gore, and the effects themselves are decent enough, if overly computerised at times. Clocking in at just over an hour and twenty minutes, it never outstays its welcome, with a few amusingly unexpected twists in its latter stages.
Unfortunately, the film is seriously flawed in terms of writing, with Sjón Sigurdsson’s script lurching between scares and what are presumably meant to be laughs or self indulgent Björk references. Most of the cast are thinly sketched racial stereotypes, from the Frenchman who continually mutters ‘Ooh-la-la’ and ‘Sacre bleu’ to the camera toting Japanese man and his awkward use of English. However, Sigurdsson seems determined to play these ridiculous figures straight, despite the fact that the film frequently feels as if on the verge of spilling into full on spoofery.
Matters are not helped by a few instances of awful acting (in particular from Miranda Hennessy and Terence Anderson, both of whom are for the most part painful to watch), or the lack of any real focus, with the film lacking any proper protagonists, heroes or heroines, or indeed characters who are halfway likeable – with the sole exception of the bizarre Endo (played by Japanese actress Nae Yuki, who also showed up in Takashi Miike’s excellent “MPD – Psycho” series), whose increasing ruthlessness and sinister motives, whilst never explained, are easily the most entertaining and engaging thing about the film.
To be fair, whilst all of this does detract from the overall effectiveness of “Harpoon”, such criticisms are pretty much par for the course when it comes to the horror genre, and the film is certainly worth watching for fans. The Icelandic scenery and general flavour does give it somewhat of a different feel, enough so to mark it as a partly enjoyable curio piece, if perhaps nothing much else.
Júlíus Kemp (director) / Sjón Sigurdsson (screenplay)
CAST: Pihla Viitala … Annette
Nae … Endo
Terence Anderson … Leon
Miranda Hennessy … Marie-Anne
Aymen Hamdouchi … Jean Francois
Carlos Takeshi … Nobuyoshi
Miwa Yanagizawa … Yuko
Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir … Helga