Dark comedies often go into the darker corners of humanity, but tend to stay away from showing the implied gore and mayhem on screen. Harpoon is hilarious and not afraid to douse its laughs in buckets of blood.
If you haven’t yet encountered director Rob Grant, do yourself a giant favor and dive into the works of this Canadian madman. To start, Mon Ami and Fake Blood are two of my favorite films from the past decade. The DIY nature of the aesthetic might be initially jarring for those used to perfectly polished studio productions. However, Grant’s strong voice, impeccable comedic timing, and willingness to showcase some good old-fashioned nihilism make him one to keep an eye on.
Grant’s latest, Harpoon, continues his frequently-visited premise of taking a group of terrible people, putting them in a terrible situation, and letting us laugh at them until things get very, irretrievably dark.
A voiceover (by Brett Gelman) introduces us to the three players, and sole actors. Jonah (Munro Chambers) has just lost his parents. As he packs up their house, he gets a visit from best friend Richard (Christopher Gray). These two friends could not be more different. Jonah is a nice guy, if a little unkempt, while Richard is an irresponsible egomaniac with overwhelming anger and daddy issues. Yet these two stick together. On this day, Richard goes storming into Jonah’s house and beats him to a bloody pulp, accusing him of sleeping with his girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra). Sasha shows up, breaks up the fight, and the truth comes out. Jonah and Sasha were working together to buy Richard a harpoon for his birthday – though, in perhaps the best running gag throughout the movie, both Richard and Jonah are quick to correct Sasha with the quibble that it’s actually a spear gun.
To make up for the beating (which doesn’t seem out of character for Richard), the three go out on Richard’s boat for a day of fishing and drinking. Nothing has ever gone wrong when a “Jonah” and a “Dick” have been out on the high seas together, right?
Well, as expected, things go very wrong very quickly. It would be easy to tread into spoiler territory, and of the joy of Harpoon is the discovery of each kink and twist in the downward spiral of this sea voyage, but I will advise not underestimating director Grant’s penchant for punishing these abhorrent people. While the Coen brothers have made plenty of dark comedies, they never really show the physical torture and viscera, but Harpoon does. That, combined with Grant’s lack of interest in giving audiences a happy ending, make for a horrifying and painful experience for the trio on screen and the audience writhing in their seats. This is definitely a film to see in a crowd so that you can hear the yelps and groans from your fellow cinemagoers.
Dark, disgusting comedies can easily fail if they’re tonally off, even by a smidge. Harpoon doesn’t miss a note.