Halloween Week Guest Review: Pontypool

The awesome Jon Fisher from The Film Brief has kindly submitted this review of Canadian indie horror flick Pontypool as part of Halloween Week. Be sure to take a look at Jon’s site.

Pontypool is a quiet, carefully paced thriller that hints at becoming a full-throated horror film without quite getting there. Scratch that – Pontypool does manage to be a horror film, but not the kind we’re accustomed to seeing, all guts and blood with little to think or care about behind the mayhem. This is a film that knows that the potential of the zombie genre lies not in the splatter and viscera, but in the terror that lies in its very premise – mankind being thrust back into the food chain as its civilised societies and its safeguards collapse in the blink of an eye.

This film – made in 2008 on a shoestring budget of around $30,000 – has an interesting twist on the zombie genre. Rather than focusing on a disease that is transmitted via blood, bile, or the bite of an infected corpse, zombies are created through a disease transmitted by words – certain words (including, as we learn, terms of endearment that are meant sincerely like ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’) carry the infection, seep into the victim’s mind, who becomes crippled by the most horrible word salad syndrome possible before deciding in their exasperation that the only way to cure themselves is to attack those around them.

Stephen McHattie at the 2008 Toronto Internati...

Stephen McHattie, who channels Tom Waits in his lead role in Pontypool.

The idea is ludicrous, of course, and at times the film feels a bit like a half-thought-through idea that an undergraduate student of a writing course might come up with (or worse yet, like an M. Night Shyamalan film), but there are moments of true tension and suspense. The film is set almost entirely within a radio station – another detail that could come across as too clever by half, but is convincingly presented – and we see the events unfold from the perspective of a former shock jock turned radio announcer (played terrifically by Stephen McHattie, who evokes Tom Waits here and seems like the sort of actor who should be better known than he is) and his crew. After an encounter with a seemingly confused woman on a snowy road in the quiet Canadian town of Pontypool, the announcer begins his night shift, before finding himself reporting on the aforementioned zombie apocalypse.

Pontypool never quite transcends the innate tackiness of its idea (which was adapted from a novel by Tony Burgess), and it lurches from contrivance to contrivance towards the end. But in the celebrated zombie genre, this is a film that has the guts to underplay its hand. With a few nifty performances and one or two sequences that intrigue rather than disgust, Pontypool attempts to be – and partially succeeds in being – a peculiar and worthwhile entry into a cluttered genre.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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