Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

Hunting humans in the cold Icelandic waters

A group of tourists take a whale watching trip off the coast of Iceland but when the captain suffers a freak accident and is mortally wounded, they are forced to take refuge aboard an old whaling ship that responds to their distress call. However this ship is home to a family of disgruntled ex-whalers who now take to hunting and killing humans since their previous past time was outlawed.

 

If there were awards for the film with the greatest title ever, surely this has to be up there with them! An Icelandic take on your ‘backwoods’ slasher featuring a family of retarded and mentally unstable psychopaths, Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre gets billed as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set aboard a whaling ship but it’s a lot more straightforward and less demented than that. It’s Iceland’s first foray into modern horror (the country made a few in the 80s but this is their first take on horror since Hostel and Saw turned up the notch of nastiness). Given their fellow Scandinavian countries have been making some decent horror films of late, it’s only right that the Icelandic nation gets a claim to horror fame. But despite having plenty of style, Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is just a European version of the same old stuff that the Americans have been making for years.

It’s a pity because the set up itself is excellent and the bizarre sequence of events that set the tourists aboard the whaling ship is nicely strung out. The Icelandic cinematography is splendid and really gives you a sense of isolation that it going to be needed later on. The whaling ship itself looks creepy and rather desolate. To say that it’s a big ship is an understatement but, for some reason, the characters only tend to hang around the same parts and thus the scale of the ship is downplayed. There’s little in the way of hide-and-seek as most of the tourists are dispatched within a few minutes of realising they’re all screwed. The ‘turn’ in the film where the psycho family attack the tourists is awesome, complete with a hammer-to-the-skull moment. But it’s at this point that the film unfortunately loses steam and instead of delivering another bloody European horror blow, it turns itself into a derivative American slasher. The tourists all separate aboard the ship and each of the family set off to hunt and kill them. The tourists all attempt to save themselves without thinking of anyone else and the rest of the film is just a rather lacklustre series of scenes of stalking and killing.

Most of the kills are by-the-book – not counting the awesome death-by-whaling-harpoon – but we don’t get a really good look at anything. Either the kill happens off screen or the camera is facing in a way so that you can’t see much at all. Very disappointing indeed especially given that there’s more blood and guts in the titles as real life footage of whales being hunted and killed is shown. The whole thing doesn’t really have an urgent sense of dread or an uncompromising atmosphere – it’s got little atmosphere at all which is a crime given how kick ass some of the parts of the ship were.

The villains are bland and try a little too hard to play to type – the domineering mother, the thuggish older brother and the dim, runt-like brother. The tourists themselves are a motley bunch of stereotypes – the Japanese guy with the camera, the French guy who says “oo la la” a little too much (get him some onions and beret as well why don’t you!) and the butch German women. In fact the most interesting character is the Japanese girl, Endo, who turns from being a servant girl into a rather ruthless killer, out for herself and no one else. It’s a really weird character and one that hangs around in the background at the start when some of the other characters are getting more exposure and development.

This is the film’s worst problem – there’s no real main character. At first we think its Pihla Viitala’s character that is nearly raped and then caught and stripped by the religious nut brother. Then the film switches focus to Terence Anderson’s Leon who again looks like he’s going to be the saviour and save the day. But towards the end of the film, it’s Endo who is the main focus and her cold-hearted approach to everyone else’s life remains frustratingly unexplained. Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) makes a small cameo and is clearly only top-billed because of his infamous horror legacy. He hardly has any lines, isn’t in the film for long and is cast as the unfortunate captain so don’t expect much in the way of in-jokes towards anything chainsaw-related. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

I really wanted to like Harpoon: The Rekjavik Whale Watching Massacre but maybe I was expecting the whole thing to be a little more grim, distasteful and brutal than it ended up given the more recent Scandinavian horror films I’ve seen (Cold Prey, Dead Snow, etc). Disappointing but still not without its own merit.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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