Directed by Bruce McDonald
When you're me, you think you've seen every kind of horror film ever made. Especially when it comes to zombie films. So when I went to go see Pontypool, I figured I'd be seeing another variation of The Signal or Pulse or 28 Days Later. You know, that old run of the mill story of zombies hordes attacking stereotypical survivors trapped in a confined space.
But I was shocked that Pontypool was a totally different type of pretzel I've never seen before.
It's an actually intelligent virus turning the masses into a bunch of crazies type movie that can be perceived in many ways. Is it a satire of censorship? A commentary on geopoliticalisms? Or is it just a suspense driven horror film to scare the crap out of you.
Well, it's all 3 and so much more.
Pontypool is definitely this years The Signal (which I ranked #3 on my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2008). Yes, Virginia you can make a movie about a virus gone awry and make it thought provoking and clever. We can thank the Canadians for making that. Hollywood hasn't done this in years. Even the great George A. Romero can't satire zombies in an intelligent way. Jeez.
Shock jock Grant Mazzy has, once again, been kicked-off the Big City airwaves and now the only job he can get is the early morning show at CLSY Radio in the small town of Pontypool which broadcasts from the basement of the small town's only church. What begins as another boring day of school bus cancellations, due to yet another massive snow storm, quickly turns deadly.
Bizarre reports start piling in of people developing strange speech patterns and evoking horrendous acts of violence. But there's nothing coming in on the news wires. So... is this really happening? Before long, Grant and the small staff at CLSY find themselves trapped in the radio station as they discover that this insane behavior taking over the town is being caused by a deadly virus being spread through the English language itself.
Do they stay on the air in the hopes of being rescued or, are they in fact providing the virus with its ultimate leap over the airwaves and into the world?
You would think a movie that takes place in one area (a radio station) and that relies at length on the dialogue would be a dull movie. However, it's the constant setting of a church basement radio station that makes for a good case of clausterphobia run amok. And it's a kudos to the actors whose performances mesmerize you with their voices.
With the recent swine flu outbreak, it's fitting that we'd see a movie that is about how the media would react to a killer virus. Lets see what have we learned? First, panic everybody. Second, panic some more. Third, try to verify the information and gather patients or eyewitnesses to shed some light on the outbreak. Finally, offer advice that leads to more panic.
This is pretty much how Pontypool goes about covering a weird outbreak in the small Canadian town of Pontypool. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a semi Imus clone, outspoken brash and Chomsky-ish. He wants to talk the talk but is forced by his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) to be the more professional DJ. Mazzy is eager to get his listeners thinking but Sydney scolds him and forces at the scene reports from Ken Loney in the "Sunshine Chopper". Assisting Sydney is war veteran Laurel (Georgina Reilly) who could be a Anna Farris lookalike. She techs up and screens the calls for Mazzy's show.
The set up of another mundane day in the snowstormed town of Pontypool is interrupted by a breaking story of a huge riot at a doctor's clinic (who makes an appearance later on). Mazzy, eager to run with the story before its verified battles his producers before succumbing to having to interview and hear a song from a troupe of actors in Lawrence of Arabia.
Later, Mazzy interviews Ken Loney, the "on the field" reporter as he describes the chaos. It's done "War of the Worlds"-ish. I would have never imagined watching a movie that relies on a radio drama to get the story moving. We are suppose to be watching a MOTION PICTURE, but the 180 we get here on hearing rather than seeing makes it mesmerizing to watch. McHattie's voice and concern seem dirty realistic.
It's the same way you get when you hear NRP's "This American Life" where the sounds and your imagination create much more than any visual could. Some humor is also thrown in when Mazzy is interviewed by a BBC affiliate looking for answers on the chaos.
The virus then hits home, when poor Laurel gets infected causing her to go all mumbly. Locked in the sound booth, we then meet the ever fluent Dr. Mendez. Some light is shed on what may be causing people to go crazy. The doc and a hacked military signal tells our heroes and us that the English language is responsible for the insanity. Yes you read that right. The English language. Soon our heroes are forced to speak Rosetta Stone French to keep sane.
The last half of the movie has Mazzy and Sydney doing the old reliable run and hide amidst the invading now dictionaried and zombified masses pouring into the station. It's tenseful at times, possibly even 3% scary, though nothing a 13 yr old couldn't handle. As we head to the final 15, the thought bubbled lightbulb goes off for Mazzy but not before we get an apocalypse.
So how do you interpret a movie where a virus is spread thru language? Especially the English language.
Bruce McDonald, the director was on hand during the screening I attended and vaguely Area 51d an explanation of the multi-verse theories. It's open to many interpretations he said. I sensed for the most part that Pontypool was a crack at Americanism and how we spread our language, our values and our very annoying pop culture throughout the world.
Does one's culture get lost when they adapt another culture's language and values? Lots of interesting questions are posed. We often joke Canada is the 51st state. Could this actually happen in say 50 years?
Language is power and how we use it is subliminally virus and disease like and perfectly satirized in Pontypool. We can spread ideas through language that affect us all. Even McDonald quipped during the Q&A that Pontypool was picked up to be distributed in South Korea with the tagline "Fear English!".
Pontypool is intelligent, witty and thought provoking and reminds us perfectly how the horror genre can be used to satire the world we live in. It's punched a spot into my list of top 10 horror movies of 2009.
So take off that white mask and head outside. No time to be paranoid about H1N1....your next words could be your last.
Laurel going all word sick and crazy
"Sydney Briar is not dead" chant
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
First some fun facts about the movie.
-The movie is adapted from Tony Burgess book "Pontypool Changes Everything"
-It was shot in 15 days and in chronological order
-Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle are married in real life
-McDonald also directed the Tracy Fragments which starred Canadian hottie Ellen Page
For more information head over to the IFC.
Oddly enough I can actually use the same final description I gave the Signal for Pontypool.
"... [It] is not entirely horror, but is sort of an artsy cinema engulfed in a horror apocalypse."
Now be quiet.
Check out the trailer.
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