Saturday, July 10, 2010

HOLEHEAD 2010—Peter Galvin Reviews Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

I wonder how often filmmakers work backwards from a good title, as director Júlíus Kemp has admitted to doing with Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009). The film itself seems to work its way backwards as well, opening threateningly with real whale-hunting footage and a gritty look, but perhaps sensing its slim chances of living up to the similarly titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Reykjavik drops the grit about a half hour in to focus on black comedy. It's a smart move, and the film is often darkly funny, I only wish the filmmakers had gone back and reworked the whole thing because I can see a lot of viewers shutting it off before they get to the good stuff.

After the whaling footage we are introduced to an international cast of harpoon fodder—a rich Japanese couple, a drunk Frenchman and a few other forgettables—and everyone speaks in their native language or terribly stilted English. The realities of working with such a diverse cast make the "getting to know you" phase of Reykjavik feel like everyone is playing charades. It's hard to spot those often clearly-defined heroes or villains—well maybe you can pick out the villains. Initially, it's hard not to compare Reykjavik to Texas Chainsaw, no matter how dissimilar they wind up being. The villainous family are whale fishermen down on their luck, similiar to Texas' family of slaughterhouse workers, and they come to the faux rescue of the whale watchers after a violent accident. Then there's the casting of Gunnar Hansen as captain of the troubled boat. Having played the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface in the original 1974 Massacre, Hansen is a well-known name to horror fans and a big reason Reykjavik is getting so much play at horror-themed festivals like Holehead.

Once you get to the actual massacre, Reykjavik drops the pretenses of plot and becomes kind of fun. It still feels like it was written in one sitting, but now those numerous narrative inconsistencies bring big dumb applause. It can be hard to tell how much is meant to be taken as comedy, but at some point I decided I was going to have a good time with it and that was not hard to do. The harpoon I mentioned earlier is particularly enjoyable, the violence fairly brutal and the character reversals completely off-the-wall. It never makes any real sense, but in its own way Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is better than most STV horror. Still, I imagine its best days will be on the festival circuit. Watching with a crowd of like-minded fans, all of them playing spot the reference, is the kind of mindless experience that we go to these festivals for.

Look at that, I went the whole review without a single
Eyjafjallajökull joke.

Cross-published on
Ornery-Crosby and Twitch.

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