Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre Review
Doing as much to help support the goals of the Icelandic Tourist Board as Eli Roth’s Hostel did for the Slovakian equivalent, Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is a gruesome and brutal tale documenting the demise of a multi-national throng of tourists on an ill-fated expedition to see the protected whales in their natural habitat. It’s no coincidence that this Icelandic Film Company-produced watery bloodfest bears a resoundingly familiar name; the title and the film pays more than a respectful nod to the classic horror shocker The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and harnesses not only many of the central techniques and themes of the seminal 70’s picture, but also one of it’s main players, the Reykjavik-born actor, Gunnar Hansen – better known as the chainsaw-wielding, dead-skin mask-wearing psychopath, Leatherface; albeit in a cameo role here as Captain Petur.
After some poignant and particularly depressing opening stock footage, splashing copious volumes of crimson viscera in front of our gaze as an enormous whale is mercilessly hunted, slaughtered, and gutted, the tone of the coming massacre is aptly set. Cue the brief introduction of a slew of tourists from different nations, some general cross-cultural awkwardness, an ugly and wholly unnecessary scene of sexual violence against one of the female characters, and our aqueous stage is set for a hunting trip where humans themselves become the predictable but unsuspecting prey.
The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre adopts the same techniques as its Texan forefather, seeking to capitalise on the alienating effect of different regions, cultures, and beliefs. A problem emerges even at an early stage, however, as we realise that for all of the different characters from all of their different backgrounds, they are, on the whole, a fairly shallow and repugnant bunch, whom speak to each other in some unpleasant ways, and their drift towards a bleak oblivion meets with our disappointed indifference. Even morally upright hero Leon (Terence Anderson, who has formally appeared in TV’s The Bill), whilst a decent enough chap, does little to garner our affection, and with an often dubious script (‘Yo, punk!’, he cries to one of the psycho-hunters at one stage) Anderson struggles to present a convincing characterisation of this central role. Other characters fare little better, and it’s almost a relief that our nefarious hunters prove sufficiently weird and threatening so as to provide some level of disgusted intrigue.
For a moment, I thought that some emerging political dimensions could lend the movie sufficient depth to offset some of its shortcomings, especially as the dysfunctional ‘family’ bemoan the impact of the whaling ban, and their relegation to souvenir manufacturers for the stupid tourists. They scorn the name of ‘Greenpeace’, or ‘Green Piss’, as one family member re-coins the group. Other potentially interesting themes are sketched out, but are then dealt with in a fashion so scant as to be considered flippant. OK, so the overt racism and xenophobia is presented from many different angles, and we draw our own conclusions, but a homosexual theme is wheeled out in coarse and rapid manner, and the reaction from a central character upon discovering this orientation – whose view evolves from one angle to another within a matter of moments - seems both artificial, and largely out of step with the depicted demographic.
The movie’s title makes no secret of its blacker-than-black humour, and there are some bleakly funny moments. Some are fairly low key, such as the late girl jumping onto the moving boat from the harbour and hurting her knee – all captured on video camera by the applauding male Japanese tourist, who clearly enjoys this moment as if part of the trip entertainment. Some of the other dark humour is more direct, whether it’s the post-burn figure of ‘Mother’ wheezing out unpleasant comments, or the simple absurdity of the flare that ends up embedded in an unfortunate face. Ouch.
We can’t forget, though, that this is a horror film, one which wears its colours proudly, and it is upon this premise that it should ultimately be judged. The extravagant gore certainly provides the most fun of all. It’s well executed, sometimes indulgently silly, and with some of the other deficiencies in terms of script and performances, injects some well needed spirit into the icy cold proceedings. Many of the more gruesome scenes are impressively stylish, and if we could have seen stronger characterisation – with personalities we felt some sort of connection to – then the commendably ambitious Harpoon… would be a few bloody cuts above the average horror fare. Even so, as it stands, it forms an unarguably flawed, but largely enjoyable foray into the bloody, cold waters of a Reykjavik nightmare.
Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre comes on a single disc, encoded for region 2. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer itself feels clean and consistent, but the film is shot to produce a heavy, grainy look, and this results in a less than sharp image. Additionally, it means that definition can often be below the high standards we expect, with darker shades becoming a murky mess, resulting in difficulty in picking out separate objects.
There are English subtitles whilst characters are talking in non-English languages.
Audio is available in standard 2.0 stereo, or 5.1 Dolby Digital. Whilst audio is generally acceptable, and the soundtrack is well reproduced, it is sometimes difficult to pick out the dialogue clearly. The main score is enjoyable and clear, but I was somewhat confused by the electric guitar twiddling during the higher tension moments; not only did it feel inappropriate for notching up the tension, but the reproduction also felt weak and insipid.
Extras are poorly served, which is a real shame given that the film has…ahem…made waves as an Icelandic horror production, and that there's a cameo from horror legend Gunnar Hansen. The only items I can count as extras are two trailers, for movies Dead Snow and Rec 2, the latter of which actually looks quite appealing.
With sweeping waves of bone-cuttingly cold, icy-black, Icelandic horror, Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is – visually, at least - an impressive hunter versus hunted bloodfest, thanks to the delivery of some exciting and well-executed slabs of gore. The characterisation and exploration of themes is rather thin, and whilst the transfer is consistent, the lower grade definition and limited colour depth disappoints. There are no extras to lend further appeal to this release, but overall the movie is just about enough of a decent stab to provide entertainment for those who like their gore cold, bloody, and as black as the murky depths of the Icelandic waters.