Cinepub


Zombie Month Repost: Pontypool by Jamie

Originally posted February 15th, 2010

Well, today is February 15th which means that, according to wikipedia, it is National Flag of Canada day which marks the day that the Canadians took down their old banner which featured the mighty Union Jack, symbol of the Great British Empire of old and chose a flag with a maple leaf on it instead. Seems like a bit of a step backwards but, you know, whatever.

Of course I kid Canada. ‘Tis a lovely flag and a lovely nation that just so happens to be home to my favourite film podcast, Film Junk. So it’s only right that we honour this day of proud heritage for the Canadian people by looking at one of the best damn Canadian films I have ever seen, the 2009 horror film, Pontypool.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this film but there are certain aspects that I simply can’t review without revealing a few little things that might be considered as spoilers so if you desperately want to see this film and haven’t gotten around to it yet then I would recommend you watch it before reading this review. Like I say, I’ll be trying to reveal as little as possible but I won’t be able to really write a review without revealing the cause of the events within the film. It’s up to you now if you read on. You have the power.

So Pontypool is named after the small town in Canada where it takes place. Perhaps the greatest thing about this film is that it takes place almost entirely in one location, a radio station where our main character, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), works as on-air talent. With him is his producer, Sydney Briar and her assistant Laurel Ann. Mazzy is a pretty fun character, a apparent former radio star who was known for having controversial opinions on things such as law enforcement who now finds himself in a small town, tin-pot radio station, constantly being told to try and reign his personality in a little.

The shit begins to hit the fan when the radio station receives a report from Ken Loney, a traffic reporter who travels the air in his Sunshine Chopper, of some extremely violent riots occurring outside the offices of Dr. Mendez. These riots soon spread throughout the town and it seems as though the rioters are somewhat dazed and confused, constantly repeating certain phrases over and over again. They also extremely violent, attacking people and apparently eating them as well.

Mazzy continues to broadcast, hoping to keep the people of Pontypool informed about the terrible events going on within the town but it soon becomes clear that the people within the radio station are quite possibly the only ones left unaffected by the strange things occurring outside. Or perhaps not. Laurel Ann suddenly seems to be incredibly confused, unable to string an entire sentence together and finally just repeating one word over and over again. Whilst this is going on, Dr. Mendez manages to find his way to the radio station and make his way inside. Upon seeing Laurel Ann he informs Grant and Sydney that it might be a good idea for them to get into the sound-proof booth and lock themselves inside away from the confused looking girl. He explains that she has been infected with a mysterious virus that is spreading around town which will cause her to hunt them and that their speech will attract her, hence locking themselves in the sound-proof booth.

That’s pretty much all the writing about the plot that I’ll do as things really start to take a turn for the worse from there. Instead I want to talk about the method by which the virus spreads itself. It is revealed throughout the course of the film that the virus is beginning to spread itself via speech, specifically the English language. There are certain words which are infected and the key is that understanding. Upon hearing an infected word and understanding it, the person becomes infected themselves. This causes them to repeat the infected word, apparently as some form of the body trying to fight the virus before finally succumbing to it and becoming aggressive whilst also trying to spread the infection.

It’s certainly a different way of trying to tackle a zombie-esque outbreak and one that’s incredibly effective. How do you fight an infection that can’t be stopped by things such as vaccines? Something that’s spread by such an intrinsic part of everyday human life as speech? I know I’d be screwed especially if the virus spread itself solely through the English language. I only know a spattering of unhelpful phrases in French and German and how to ask for a beer in Japanese. Yep, I’d either be fucked or incredibly drunk in a Japanese bar. I really hope for the later.

Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this film are the comedic elements that are layered throughout it. There’s the revelation that Ken isn’t actually in a helicopter at all. The Sunshine Chopper is actually his Dodge Dart which he parks on top of a hill in order to give him an aerial view of the traffic situation below. There’s also an hilarious scene with the cast of a local theatre troupe who are putting on a musical version of Lawrence of Arabia. And I can’t talk about the humour of the film without mentioning the character of Grant Mazzy himself. The man’s brilliant and McHattie does an excellent job of portraying a man who clearly dislikes the idea of restraining himself on air.

Despite all this comedy, Pontypool remains a genuinely creepy movie. There’s an undercurrent of unease running through it, particularly early on in the film when it isn’t really clear exactly what’s going on, especially with Ken’s recurring reports on what’s going on outside. It’s a classic example of not revealing too much too soon and it’s masterfully done here. When the infection does reach the station, the film doesn’t shy away from the odd bit of gore and violence either, literally spraying the sound proof booth with blood at one point.

Unless you hadn’t guessed by now, I highly recommend Pontypool. It manages to achieve something that horror films rarely do these days, make me feel genuinely tense and that’s a very good thing indeed. Five pints out of five.

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