Friday, March 17, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Iceland. A very international group of future murder victims (oops, spoiler) goes on a whale watching tour. All seems well - though some of the tourists are a bit annoying - but in truth the more unpleasant parts of the trip are already starting with the only sailor on board beside the ship's captain (Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen) raping one of the female tourists in his cabin. Things don't exactly improve when a freak accident with a poky stick and a flying drunk Frenchman lethally wounds the captain. Seeing the mess, sailor Rape jumps into the emergency boat and flees, leaving the tourists to their fate.

It seems like a fortunate occurrence when a boat with a friendly enough acting rescuer on board appears only a little bit later. The tourists are getting somewhat nervous when their helper doesn't ferry them into the next harbour, but instead transports them to a rusty old whaling ship, where they meet his son and wife. It doesn't take five minutes until the charming family members show their true face and gorily dispatch of tourist number one. People living on a ship need to eat too, it seems, and what could be more tasty than other people when you're not allowed to slaughter whales anymore?

Instead of using their superior numbers, the tourists flee the location of the first murder in panic, heading in all directions, all the easier to be picked off one by one. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Julius Kemp's Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is a more interesting case than a title that screams "generic Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off", or worse "generic slasher but on a ship", promises. Sure enough, the movie is full of allusions to TCM and every other film about hairy people with bad bodily hygiene hunting tourists for food (and it also throws in a non-zombie bit of Night of the Living Dead for good measure later on), but Kemp seems more interested in playing with - perhaps even subverting - the genre(s) his film belongs to than he is in just reproducing its generic parts.

How successful the film's attempts in this direction are for a given viewer will depend on a few things. Firstly, it will depend on a viewer's ability to enjoy the film's plain and very European weirdness. It's weirdness of the sort that had left (the little there was of) European horror filmmaking during the 90s only to return again with a vengeance in the new century. RWWM makes no attempts at masking its anti-realistic proclivities at all, which leads to a handful of fantastically strange and eerie scenes like the one where the raped woman begins to sing "It's Oh So Quiet" over the whale watching boat's PA while the captain lies in his death throes, the other tourists staring on in horror. Or the fact that the film's bad guys are whalers who have  - now that they can't kill whales - anymore switched to hunting whale watchers (which is of course also an allusion to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

This does lead us of course to the "secondly" that has to follow each "firstly". As it is often the case, the film's highly developed sense of the weird has its price in a script (by Sjon Sigurdsson) whose plotting is just all over the place. Not much of what is happening holds up to even the most cursory logical scrutiny, some of it is even just plain stupid. To go for the most obvious example for the latter case - why do the cannibal whalers (who are supposed to have been doing their thing for quite some time now) attack a tourist group this large in a way that just has to lead to some of them escaping and making trouble later on? There's really no reason I (or the script) could think of. You'd also think professional cannibals like this would secure their boat when they have victims running around their home so that their victims will at least not be able to escape. And don't get me started about the times when the film decides to be just plain stupid and jokily throws in a random orca attack just for the hell of it where it really doesn't belong.

Another problem on the scripting side is a sub-plot about a Japanese tourist (Nae, last seen by me in Takashi Miike's MPD Psycho TV adaptation) who just might be even more dangerous than the Icelandic cannibals, but whose part in the proceedings is in desperate need of a bit of exposition or cutting. She's probably supposed to represent a contrasting evil to the evil of the cannibals, but that whole aspect of the movie is too underdeveloped for me to be sure.

All of the film's other character's are (keeping within the traditions of its sub-genre) quite underdeveloped too, with so little background to them the audience isn't even made privy of most of their names. Quite often, however, RWWM does something clever with this dearth of information, using it to let its characters act in ways unexpected for their assumed character types without looking like it's lying to its audience about them for cheap effect. This causes a certain unpredictability that I quite liked about the movie, as if not defining the characters clearly had created the possibility to not completely shackle them to the expected horror film stereotypes, leaving us with a film where the expected final girl isn't really the final girl (or at least only in a very roundabout way) and where the most competent and sane character is a gay black man (played by Terence Anderson); the latter of course even decades after Romero did the groundwork nearly unseen in our genre.

For me, a lot of clever, (possibly) subversive bits and a big old heaping of The Weird are enough to clearly put Kemp's Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre into the camp of imperfect films well worth watching. If plot logic and coherence is more important to you than it is to me, you just might disagree there.

No comments: