Stars: Pihla Viitala, Nae, Terence Anderson, Miranda Hennessy, Helgi Björnsson, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Stefán Jónsson, Aymen Hamdouchi and Gunnar Hansen.
Writer: Sjón Sigurdsson
Director: Júlíus Kemp
Running time: 83 minutes
Preceeded by a reputation that combines Oscar-nominated heft with unbridled homeland critical derision, Júlíus Kemp’s Icelandic-made splatter-flick Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is the sort of loopy, energetic slasher film that is destined to keep floating to the surface at midnight-screenings. Deliberately OTT in its gory dispatches and crassly xenophobic enough to rile the intelligentsia, Kemp’s riff of ‘Texas Chainsaw’-style claustrophobic terror is neither as bad as some would have you believe nor as shocking as it makes itself out to be.
With the whaling industry all but decimated by enviro do-gooders (“Green piss,” as one character calls them), ex-harpooners Tryggvi (a hulking Helgi Björnsson), psychotic younger brother Siggi (Stefán Jónsson) and complete fruitcake matriarch, Mamma (Guðrún Gísladóttir) drift aimlessly aboard their decrepit rust-bucket, feeding their dormant blood-lust by picking off lone seafarers. All their Christmases come at once when a whale-watching expedition, comprising a smorgasbord of international caricatures, looses their Captain (the original Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen) and must seek refuge on board the murder-boat.
Screenwriter Sjón Sigurdsson crafted the AMPAS-recognised score for Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, making an international star of country-woman Björk (who returns the favour by granting permission for this production to use her hit, ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’). But the brazen originality he exhibited as a lyricist abandons him in his second screenplay (after sharing credit on 2001’s Regína). Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre contains some rich howlers, delivered by actors who either weren’t in on the joke or weren’t talented enough to convey the irony.
Kudos goes to leading lady Pihla Viitala, whose initial vulnerability morphs into momentarily strong clarity; she is by far the most realistically etched character in film full of inscrutable Asians, shrill middle-aged Pommie women, panicky American hotties, drunken French men of Moroccan ancestry and a well-spoken African gent who, I kid you not, is referred to by the killers as ‘Black Jesus’. No film in recent memory has so openly toyed with such broad racial stereotypes.
The gore is plentiful but so comically portrayed as to be of little consequence (compared to Australia’s similarly-structured Wolf Creek, its impact is meagre). A neatly-staged kill involving a harpoon (the film’s alternate title in some territories) is a highlight, as is a closed-quarters fire stunt that looked to have been particularly perilous to film. The film goes joyfully off-the-rails when an Orca targets some third-act survivors.
Other key assets include a richly authentic sea-faring flavour and the film’s thematic examination of the sad deterioration of traditional hunting dynasties. Their importance to the proceedings, however, mostly fades into the background, bathed in the gooey redness of kinda silly slasher film tropes. But the pretensions of Sigurdsson and Kemp afford the film a modicum of credibility in a genre that is too often easily dispensed with.
Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre will screen on Saturday May 19 as part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival. In attendance will be screenwriter Sjón Sigurdsson, winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize for The Blue Fox, president of the Icelandic PEN Centre and director on the board of Reykjavík, UNESCO City of Literature.