Home Year 2008 Pontypool (2008)

Pontypool (2008)

Mazzy didn’t react well to the male doctor’s sultry striptease.

Twitter Plot Summary: A zombie-style outbreak takes place in Pontypool, Ontario as the local radio station tries to piece together what’s happening.

Genre: Horror/Thriller

Director: Bruce McDonald

Key Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak

Five Point Summary:

1. A strange woman on the road, babbling to herself. A portent?
2. Is this a prank? Certainly seems like one.
3. Doctor in the houuuuuuse!!!
4. Zombie-related attacks…
5. The military really don’t like the English language, do they?

Pontypool is another fun twist on the zombie genre, this time with the virus being spread by words, the English language to be specific, rather than bites. Although saying that, despite the virus being transferred by words, that doesn’t stop the infected from trying to bite your face off. Conveniently, we’re in a radio station in Pontypool, Canada (sorry Welsh peeps, not your one) so it’s a veritable hotbed of words and choice language. More so when you introduce Stephen McHattie as shock jock Grant Mazzy, recently fired from his presenting job at a bigger station. At first he naturally assumes this is all just a prank to poke fun at him, but then events take a turn for the worse and it then becomes a question of how to survive.

Also conceived as a radio drama, Pontypool works as a low budget film because it doesn’t get ideas above its station – it restricts all of the action to one location and lets the characters do all the work. There’s also something unsettling about not seeing the outbreak itself, rather we as the audience experience it third hand along with trio working in the radio station. Alongside Mazzy are producer Sydney Briar (Houle) and Laurel-Ann (Reilly) who has recently returned from serving in the armed forces. Slowly we build a picture of what’s happening in the outside world as Pontypool is quarantined and announcements are piped into the town in French. Just through words and descriptions we know exactly what’s going down, and if anything else this picture created by our imaginations is more potent than anything we’d see on screen.

Mazzy was proud of his "silent but deadly".
Mazzy was proud of his “silent but deadly”.

Interestingly enough, even though the violence is taking place elsewhere, director Bruce McDonald often chooses to shoot his actors in close-up, which builds up the feeling that something is going to burst into the room at any moment and rip them all to pieces. The arrival of a group of singers, casually introduced in the background as the camera focuses on Briar during the broadcast, makes you assume the worst because you don’t know who/what they are. It turns out it’s worse than zombies as they sing something from The Sound of Music, but aside from that it’s a very clever lesson in how to build up tension in the audience. The way the infected seek victims and/or become infected in the first instance is also an interesting point – it begins with the repetition of a certain word or phrase, looping it until the infection takes hold. Once infected, a kind of echo location system is used, drawn to words rather than specific noises. I’ve said before many times, but I do like zombie films where the core idea is given a new twist, and Pontypool delivers on that front.

The introduction of the doctor comes at about the right point in the story, although his entrance and appearance is ever so slightly unbelievable. Still, it pushes the story forward into its second half and we not only start to receive some answers about the hows and whys of the outbreak, but also some choice zombie-style attacks. The ending leaves it open to your interpretation regarding the fate of the characters, but that’s not to say it’s a cop-out ending, rather it’s an extension of what has preceded it. Just remember to breathe breathe breathe, remember to breathe…. breathe breathe breathe… oh dear…

Favourite scene: When the infected make their way inside…

Quote: “Do we really want to provide a genocide with elevator music?”

Silly Moment:  The doctor arrives. Through a window. Secure building…

Score: 3.5/5

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