As the likes of All Is Lost and Dead Calm have ably demonstrated, ample dramatic mileage can be mined from a yacht grounded at sea. Like the aforementioned 1989 Australian psychological thriller, Rob Grant’s Harpoon is also a gripping three-hander, but this time around it isn’t a mysterious stranger who pops up out of the blue to disrupt the blissful seafaring escapades of a loving couple. Here, the trio involved are all connected prior to their ill-fated jaunt into the ocean.
Having received a spear gun for his birthday (the film’s title refers to the constant humorous mix-up with said gift) the preppy and affluent Richard sets sails with long-suffering girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) and penniless best friend Jonah (Turbo Kid’s Munro Chambers) for a day trip on the family yacht, which is appropriately named the ‘Naughty Buoy’. The cracks in their relationship are already apparent in the film’s opening and any suspicions that Richard is being cuckolded soon re-emerge as they travel deeper out to sea and the two supposed friends lock horns once more.
After a messy struggle which see’s Jonah receiving a nasty hand wound and a concussed Richard being momentarily tossed overboard, the two of them – alongside Sasha – are forced to put their differences aside when the yacht’s engine fails to start and they find themselves stranded with little in the way of food or water. Save for the odd snippet of grainy flashbacks expanding on the character’s backstories – delivered with comic brio in voiceover from Fleabag’s Brett Gelman – the rest of the film’s action takes place exclusively within the interior of a yacht. While it might look like Grant is ostensibly painting himself into a narrative corner, the results couldn’t be any further from this.
Harpoon manages to remain tense and highly watchable throughout, thanks largely to the strong performances by the engaging leads, some lovely bursts of dark humour and the escalating predicament of the tortured trio. Grant’s buoyant script slowly peels back layer upon layer of revelations, keeping the audience on their toes and making it tricky as to who to root for – a welcoming and daring dramatic device. There’s certainly concessions to the exploitation crowd – the gulping down of glutinous chunks of seagull blood in a futile attempt to stave off hunger is particularly stomach-churning to witness – but Harpoon is an altogether smarter and more accomplished film than your standard modern B-movie offering.