Harpoon aka Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is a 2009 Icelandic horror film directed by Júlíus Kemp and this movie is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. If you haven’t heard of it that is not at all surprising, so the question you should be asking yourself is whether you should take the plunge on this nautical horror flick featuring none other than Gunnar Hansen. We’re here to share our thoughts in typical, spoilery fashion so if you’re interested, we advise (as always) you take a look at the trailer and maybe give it a watch before coming back to read/listen to our thoughts.
Reviewed by: Jake
Some people visiting Reykjavik, Iceland decide to go on a whale watching excursion. It is, after all, one of the country’s main attractions. After some largely inexplicable and totally irrelevant backstory on some of them, we’re introduced to the full, ultra-diverse group. You have some Japanese tourists, a black man, German women, a drunk French guy, and of course, an American. It doesn’t really matter though as they are largely expendable and quickly prove it.
The story picks up as the group gets on board the whale watching ship for a day of sightseeing, led by captain Pétur (Gunnar Hansen. Yes, Leatherface.) Once out to sea, captain Gunnar is having some trouble locating whales so he radios another ship asking if they have seen any pods in the waters. Little does he know he’s contacted a family of lunatics that butcher people on their old harpooning vessel… Unknowingly, he directs his ship right towards them. Before they make contact however, the drunk French guy climbs the masts like a belligerent asshole and accidentally kicks some shrapnel off the crows nest when he nearly slips and falls into the drink and skewers the captain.
The tourists get picked up by the family and mere seconds after arriving on their ship the bloodbath begins. This commences a game of hide & seek with the attackers which leaves everyone dead except for one of the Japanese woman who escaped and flies home, seemingly relieved to be freed from her asshole husband. The movie ends as a couple of the women float aimlessly in the sea, presumably near death.
What the Movie Does Right
PSA: this is not a good movie. But to be fair, if you choose this movie based off its name, which could be A) Harpoon, B) Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre or C) Whale Watching Massacre, then you better not have expected it to be. I, for one, immensely prefer option B because it’s both hilarious and also just a shameless tip of the ‘ol cap to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s no secret that this movie lives and dies with its kills. For the most part, I think it succeeds on that front as you’re treated to a few dandies. The most notable is probably the one featuring the titular harpoon, which one of the family members unleashes at long range to skewer a fleeing man in the water. It’s this type of over-the-top sort of overkill that brought the only real moments of joy the film had to offer. There’s another great kill involving a hilarious axe throw that stylistically slows down to accentuate the artistry of the toss before it cleanly decapitates the drunk French dude. Hilarious. Awesome. Simple.
Another small but notable thing I think this movie does right is the story. Call it derivative if you want but I kind of like the crazed family roaming the icy waters around Reykjavik looking for people to kill. It’s pitch is essentially to be TCM on a boat, but what’s really wrong with that?
Also, can you imagine Gunnar Hansen captaining a whale watching ship in his native Iceland? Would you not go on that whale watching trip? Don’t lie to
What the Movie Does Wrong
A whole lot of things, y’all. The most notable to all of us on the podcast (which you should totally listen to by the way) was that there are a ton of problematic things going on with the characters. This is a movie that makes the closest thing it has to a protagonist a gay black man but then kills him off anyway. Sure that’s a bit of dark humor and sure pretty much all the despicable characters meet their own grisly ends at some point during the film, but what you have with this movie ultimately feels like a film that knows what it is doing and what it is trying to say, but it can never quite connect point A to point B and provide any positive commentary on anything. It’s definitely not just because there is dark humor at play either. Watching the film stumble around these elements really hurts its main appeal, which is especially apparent during the second act once the group arrives on the family’s boat and is forced to run or fight.
This movie also looks pretty shoddy. There is a part of me that thinks it tried to capture a bit of the rawness of TCM, but this ultimately just feels more like digital graininess.
Finally, we will return to another big one to create a sort of complaint sandwich; the events of the film that befall our characters are pretty impossible to follow or become invested in. There is basically no way to make sense of who these people are which is fine but they also aren’t just pieces of meat. There are scenes in this movie of racism, violence towards women, rape, racism etc. that really amount to nothing and don’t inform any of the plot elements. It’s not stupid enough to be silly and it’s not smart enough to make a point. There is very likely an editing issue here, but it’s hard to tell given the finished product.
Story: 3.5 - As I mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with making TCM on a boat. That’s actually kind of cool, but it’s also not what we get. There are also bafflingly strange sequences of film here that amount to nothing and don’t play any role on the events of the film.
World-Building / Immersion: 3 - The second act in particular is fairly entertaining but the build up has already lost you at that point and even then, the action stumbles into problematic shit left and right and treats all of it so awkwardly.
Scare-Factor: 3 - If you’re scared of being at sea there could be some fright to this flick but for the most part this category begins and ends with the gory violence. Most of that is stylized and humorous though.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5.5 - The visual effects on a lot of the gore in this movie looks pretty good and kudos for actually lighting a person on fire to create a scene where someone is lit on fire. The CG is not good (par for the course) and the audio is fairly lacking in a lot of ways, from the foley work to the mixing.
Overall: 3.5 - This is a movie with a core that is interesting and it even features some cool kills but there’s just not enough going right in between the good moments to make this a recommendable film to almost anyone but major Gunnar Hanson fans or slasher freaks.