NOVEMBER 27, 2010
Every now and then Mr. Disgusting goes on vacation or something and has me write up some of the daily news stories for Bloody-Disgusting, which isn’t exactly my favorite part of the job. I can’t put two words together if I don’t care about the subject, so a bit of casting on some PG-13 remake or a release date for a movie I’ve never heard of just isn’t how I like to spend my free time. But a while back (2007!), one such story was the announcement of Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (retitled from Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, and quite obviously so during the opening credits, which are otherwise stylish and well done), which was oddly described as a cross between Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead, and, obviously, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I was intrigued, but a lot of movies get announced and never happen, so I forgot all about it.
Then it played at Screamfest last year, and I missed it (I forget why), but heard good things, so I was excited to check it out when I heard it was coming to DVD. And hurrah! I enjoyed it. But it’s a good thing I forgot about those ED/BWP comparisons, because I don’t have a damn clue where they came from. There’s nothing supernatural about it, it feels like a real production (as opposed to those films’ do-it-yourself charms), and, well, it’s about people getting killed on a boat. How do those woods-set low budget (and, not for nothing, superior) films even find their way into the conversation?
Anyway, it’s more like Mother’s Day mixed with Hatchet. Like the latter, we have a very large motley crew as opposed to the usual group of friends – many of the characters don’t even know anyone else, and they come in all ages – a couple of young folks, a dude that seems about 35 or so, some middle aged Asian tourists, a few old females (who are inexplicably Hollywood producers, apparently)... it’s a wonderfully diverse mix. And like Mother’s Day, our killers are a domineering mother and her sons, one of whom seems a bit mentally challenged.
And like both films, it’s got humor. Not as overt as either, but certainly funnier than Chain Saw or Hills Have Eyes (the two films it’s compared to on its own trailer – these filmmakers are hellbent on comparing their film to others!), giving the film an unexpected breezy tone. I particularly liked the obligatory cell phone moment, with the owner reacting to a wavy signal: “I got a signal! Wait, it’s gone. There it is! Nope...” It reminded me of Chevy Chase’s delivery in Fletch when he opens the Ed MacMahon envelope. “And... I lost, again. Sorry.” But Chevy didn’t get killed a few seconds later like this lady does (the guy seemingly just doing it to shut her up).
I also liked that they kept playing with our expectations. The seeming heroine who sleeps late and has to run through town and then jump on the boat to join the tour – you think she’d be a Ripley-esque asskicker, right? Nope, she becomes a depressed, mumbling loon over the course of the film (think Drusilla on Buffy). The pretty blond who takes a liking to the alpha male who may ALSO be our final girl turns out to be a royal, hateful bigot; the alpha male turns out to be gay, etc. The only exception is the French asshole guy, who remains an asshole throughout the film. Perhaps there is some Icelandic/French conflict I don’t know about.
These deeper-than-usual characterizations help make up for the film’s rather generic plot, which is basically just the usual survival stuff, albeit on a boat instead of a backwoods dungeon or isolated house. A few folks get it right away, some hide and run around, others escape only to find themselves “rescued” by someone who is in cahoots with the villains, etc. Since the characters weren’t generic, I was kind of expecting this stuff to have a little more variety to it as well, but alas, for the most part the kills and carnage are standard issue modern horror.
Except, of course, for the finale. It takes the whole movie for the “Whale” part of the plot to pay off, but it’s worth it. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say that the film stays true to the survival horror tradition of having something besides the human killers to worry about. Also, the ending is kind of melancholy, with a sort of epilogue showing what happens to the survivor(s) and the abandoned cars of those who are dead, plus a final little “fuck you” moment for one of the killers that I quite liked. The music is also kind of sad here, it’s almost like the ending of some grim prison drama or something.
Apart from the rather bland chase n’kill elements, I also wasn’t a big fan of the film’s editing. Not only were there a lot of jump cuts, but certain scenes were needlessly confusing as a result of the editing. For example, at one point a “hero” seemingly sells out one of the others in order to aid his/her escape, but it takes a lot of mentally connecting the dots to figure out what happened, which is odd for what’s essentially a plot twist (in a movie called Whale Watching Massacre, no less). It’s not even clear how he/she managed to convey this idea to the killer in the first place, nor are we given any explanation or even a hint why he’d go along with it. And it’s not the only sort of awkward/vague moment in the film; hell, the sequence of events in which they get on the “bad” boat from their dead cruise boat is even a bit of a puzzler, like they forgot to film part of the sequence.
But Gunnar Hansen (who is actually from Iceland) might smack me for saying that, as he talks quite a bit in the making of (I think he’s the only one to be interviewed independent of the film’s production) about how prepared the director was and how unlike most low budget shoots, he shot a lot of coverage. So I dunno, maybe they just wanted to make these scenes confusing for some reason. Or Gunnar’s wrong (he’s only in the movie for like 5 minutes, after all). Or I’m just dumb. At any rate, it’s a decent enough behind the scenes look, though more insight from the director and writer would have been nice. Of interest – Hansen notes that this is only his 27th film, which is kind of impressive when you consider Chain Saw (his first) was about 35 years prior to this. Compare that to fellow Chainsaw vet Bill Moseley, who has over 30 film credits just in the past 5 years. The man is choosy! The only other extra is a trailer.
The transfer is fine, nothing that will blow your mind, but I didn’t notice any artifacting or washed out colors either. It DID seem a little soft, however, without any of the great detail I’m used to on Blu-ray. So assuming that the extras are the same, I don’t think you’d need to shell out the extra 5-10 bucks for the Blu-ray version (though on Amazon the Blu is actually cheaper, go figure). It’s also curiously lacking in the language department – there’s only the one audio track, and no subtitles of any kind. However, maybe I’m just spoiled by the Alien Blu-Ray, which I’ve been digging through over the past week – that thing has numerous language options for the subtitles for the COMMENTARY! I mean, DAMN. THAT is a complete package (also one of the most beautiful transfers I’ve ever seen).
Overall I’d recommend the film to folks who enjoy the “other” elements of these sort of movies (the setting, the characters, the music) more than they do the kills and gore. If you just want to see a bunch of creative kills or a lot of splatter, stick with Hatchet or Laid To Rest, because Harpoon is lacking in these areas. But personally, this didn’t bother me, and I liked that it was sort of “off” from start to finish. A quirky, surprisingly fun flick, nothing more, nothing less.
What say you?