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July 2010

Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre

cast: Terrence Anderson, Pihla Viitala, Miranda Hennessy, Aymen Hamdouchi, and Carlos Takeshi

director: J�l�us Kemp

84 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
E1 DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Jim Steel

Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre

The title pretty much nails it and, if that doesn't do the trick, there's also a cameo from Gunnar 'Leatherface' Hanson. Have your expectations been lowered enough? Good: now there's a chance that you might enjoy this Icelandic slasher movie in its own right. The setting is original and, while large chunks of it may be flawed or derivative, it does succeed in keeping you guessing as to the identity of the survivors (assuming, of course, that there are any).

The opening credits play over footage of authentic whale hunts and it is grotesquely effective. Nothing in the film matches this for horror, but it also instantly lets you know that this film is attempting to be something other than a mere prom-queen massacre. A mismatched group of international tourists gather on a pier one morning to go on a whale-spotting expedition. The cranes on the Reykjavik skyline suggest that this was filmed before the recent financial collapse, but the state of the fishing boat that arrives to pick them up suggests that the writer is referencing an older economic malaise.

The ship and its two-man crew have obviously enjoyed better days and the collapse of the fishing industry has hit them hard. The tourists themselves are a mixed bunch and most of them are pretty unpleasant. Bottom of the heap is alcoholic Frenchman Jean Fran�ois (played by Aymen Hamdouche in a manner that suggest he hates Frenchmen and acting in equal measure), but several of the others run him close. A group of three golden girls, two Japanese women under the control of the super-sexist Nobuyoshi (Carlos Takeshi), and another three individuals make up the numbers. One of the others, Marie-Anne (Miranda Hennessy) is on what would have been her honeymoon if her fianc�e hadn't died, and she hooks up with another American, Leon (Terrence Anderson), in an attempt to get rid of a creepy vendor (Bjarni Gautur T�masson) who has followed her onto the pier. The vendor, to no-one's great surprise, is reconnoitring the situation for his creepy family. But we are getting ahead of ourselves...

It doesn't take long before things start to go disastrously wrong on the whale-watching expedition - these people really have no need of an outside force to create their own splatter movie - and when rescue comes, it is in the shape of the vendor's brother (an effective Helgi Bj�rnsson) who ferries the survivors out to his family's whaler. The whaling vessel is, of course, another victim of changing times and the collapse of that industry seems to have unhinged the crew.

Things kick off pretty rapidly after that, and it is merely a question of what happens to whom. Violence..? Yes, but not so much that it's unwatchable - and it helps that some of the victims are so unpleasant that you actively hope for their dispatch. A sprinkle of black humour seasons the grue, and the violence continues relentlessly, if inventively, until the end.

The title may seem like a pastiche (and in truth it came before the script), but it delivers honestly enough; Reykjavik, a harpoon, a massacre and, yes, even whales make an appearance. The affiliation to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would have been obvious even if it hadn't been referenced in the title, but the northern lighting is wonderful and creates little bits, now and again, that make you wonder what would have happened if Ingmar Bergman had directed a splatter movie. These little bits, it should be said, do not occur that often though.



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