Munro Chambers

Harpoon

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Three friends go out for a day pleasure cruise. While out at sea, tensions flare and horrible choices are made. The group is left adrift in the middle of the ocean with no food, no water, no radio, and no working engine. As the yacht endlessly floats, sexual tension and deep dark secrets are forced to the surface with disastrous consequences.

Writer and director Rob Grant (Desolate, Alive) brings the darkest of dark horror comedies with his latest film, Harpoon. A narrator sets the tone for the film with sarcastic and cynical monologues introducing viewers to the three main characters. Then, when the characters are finally brought together for the first time, an explosive burst of violence perfectly shows the tumultuous and deranged relationship these people have. How quickly they go from a physical altercation to going for a day cruise on a yacht makes it very clear that there are a lot of deep rooted issues with these three friends just waiting to bubble up to the surface. It leads to some truly gruesome and hilarious hijinks as things go from bad, to worse, to complete and utter disaster. All the while, the narrator continues to describe the disturbing events in ways that are sure to make the viewer laugh at the most inappropriate times. There are also some great long-running jokes throughout the film. Even the name of the film is a joke because there is in fact not one harpoon in the entire film.

One of the most interesting things about Harpoon is that it does something I usually hate in horror films, yet Grant makes it work. Typically, it bothers me when none of the characters have any redeeming qualities because then I don’t care about their fates and it kills the suspense. All three people trapped on the yacht are really despicable people in various ways and to differing degrees, yet it works exceedingly well in this context. We aren’t meant to really feel for these people. We are meant to be shocked by what happens while also cracking up at the unfortunate events that befall the group. It is the perfect combination of horror and humor that doesn’t make the viewer feel ashamed for laughing at their misfortune.

The entire small cast delivers memorable performances. Budding horror film star Munro Chambers (Riot Girls, Turbo Kid) plays Jonah. Chambers has been making his mark in genre films over the past couple years and his performance as the tragic Jonah is another great success. Jonah’s intentions sometimes appear to be good, but there are many layers hidden within that really allow Chambers to show off his acting prowess. One of the surprises of the film is Emily Tyra (Flesh and Bone, Ring Ring) as Sasha. Of all the characters, Sasha comes across as the most levelheaded. It is her knowledge and resolve that help keep the group alive and Tyra shines in the role. Christopher Gray (The Mist, The Society) plays Sasha’s boyfriend and the owner of the yacht, Richard. Richard is the epitome of the rich, white, privileged guy you can’t help but hate, yet Gray also manages to make him the most hilarious character in the film. Between his great dialogue and his anger issues, Gray is sure to give the audience a good laugh. All three actors play off of each other incredibly well and their on-screen chemistry truly makes it feel like they have known each other for years.

The sets, practical effects, and filming techniques allow for a lot of visual interest throughout Harpoon. Really there is one set for 90% of the film – the yacht. It is a fairly spacious boat, but when three people are stranded on it with nothing but open water as far as the eye can see it definitely becomes claustrophobic. There is something about being adrift in the vast abyss of the ocean that is truly terrifying. That terror is intensified by the surprising amount of gore. There are bruises, cuts, infections, and copious amounts of blood and all of it looks disgustingly real. With the film taking place on a yacht at sea, there are some great opportunities for interesting cinematography. Yet what stands out are a couple flashback scenes that connect the events of the film to events of the past in a way that adds to the plot while also giving the viewer something fun to look at.

Harpoon abandons a group of dysfunctional friends adrift on a yacht and lets the insanity unfold in this dark horror comedy. It is a relatively simple plot that Grant manages to inject with memorable moments and humor. While the characters are all horrible people, it makes it much more entertaining to watch them deteriorate and turn against each other and the performances from all three actors are fantastic. This film definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is exactly the kind of deranged humor I can’t get enough of.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Riot Girls

riot girls

In a post-apocalyptic version of the 90’s lies a small town divided in two. On one side are the poor kids and the punks, on the other are the rich kids and the jocks. When the jocks manage to capture the leader of the punk kids, it’s up to a small band of misfits to go on a rescue mission into enemy territory.

Director Jovanka Vuckovic is most well known for her segment, “The Box,” from horror anthology XX. Now she’s making her feature film debut with Riot Girls, written by Katherine Collins (Blindspot, Lost in Space). The film essentially takes a typical high school 90’s film of jocks vs. punks and injects it with steroids. The post-apocalyptic setting where a virus has wiped out all adults turns the rivalry between the two groups deadly. Without adults to control the violence, the two gangs divide the small town, constantly fighting for resources. The plot focuses on two young women, Nat and Scratch, who are members of the punk gang on the poor side of town. It’s Nat’s brother who is taken by the rival jock gang. These two lovable misfits, with the help of a newcomer, decide to venture into jock territory to save Nat’s brother.

Riot Girls is a compelling film in the way it portrays bullying. The filmmakers also waste no time in portraying the punks as the good guys and the jocks as the bad guys. Aside from the obvious connected to bullying in how the jock’s behave, the societies the two gangs create are also very different. The punks have a more communal society where everyone is taken care of and has a say, while the jocks are run by a malicious dictator and his cronies. It is an extreme portrayal that still feels grounded in reality.

One point of confusion with the plot is the nature of the illness. It is clear that it wiped out all of the adults and that is what led to the current state of the small town. If it had been left at that, then that bit of mystery around the virus would have worked perfectly well. The issue that arises comes from a reference to the virus later on in the film. It seems to be a moment of some significance that hints at some greater piece of the puzzle when it comes to the virus. Yet, after that moment, the virus is never mentioned again. It is a small moment, but the fact that it is not addressed again at any point in the rest of the film makes it seem like a loose end.

A very successful aspect of Riot Girls is how the film portrays Nat and Scratch. Nat is played by Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Annabelle Comes Home). She is the most down to earth and relatable character as she simply tries to live the best life possible in this new world. Scratch, played by Paloma Kwiatkowski (Bates Motel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), is the much more guarded of the two. She presents a tough exterior and isn’t trusting of those not part of her group, yet inside she is likely even more vulnerable than Nat. Not only do both Iseman and Kwiatkowski deliver great performances on their own, they also have great chemistry together. These two young women are a couple, yet the filmmakers don’t use their relationship as a gimmick and make a point of going, “LOOK OVER HERE, THESE GIRLS ARE LESBIANS!” Nat and Scratch are cinematically shown like any straight couple, which is very important when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in film. Aside from these two strong leading ladies, I need to give performance shout-outs to Ajay Friese (Lost in Space) as the kind outsider, Sony, and Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid) as the sinister jock leader, Jeremy.

Visually, Riot Girls perfectly captures what the small town may have looked like it the world ended in the 90’s. The film has the sort of shiny, plastic, vibrantly colored look typically found in teen films made in the 90’s. Even the music acts as a killer soundtrack of punk rock hits to transport the audience back in time. The clothing also lends itself to that time period. The punk kids rock ripped jeans, leather jackets, and heavy black eye makeup. The jocks are all perfectly coiffed with their tidy clothes and letterman jackets. Then there are some kids that fall between these two groups that have a more grunge look to them, often wearing a combination of oversized military jackets and flannel. All of this helps to create a sense of the film being in an alternate past, but the most eye-catching visual aspect is the way the filmmakers make the film look like a comic book. The introduction that gives the film context is shown as an animated comic book, but then that theme is continued throughout the film. Many of the transitions between scenes are represented in comic panels. It is a fun and interesting style that definitely catches the eye.

Riot Girls is a genre-bending adventure that acts as a thrilling ode to misfits. Vuckovic had already shown her filmmaking skills with her short film, but now she has proven she can deliver a compelling feature length film. Not only do Vuckovic and Collins create an interesting alternate reality with Riot Girls, but they also deliver a feminist film with a couple of amazing women smashing the patriarchy. There may be some unanswered questions about the virus by the end of the film, but the primary focus of the rescue mission helps overshadow those questions. The film boasts a great ensemble cast, with Iseman and Kwiatkowski carrying the weight of the film on their able shoulders.  It’s hard not to love these two punks and the alternate reality of the film. This is a must see film for the misfits of the world.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10