“Fuck the Wire if we’ve got eyes!”
Adapted from the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything by the man himself, and directed by Bruce McDonald, Pontypool is a great high-tension thriller with just four main actors and almost entirely set in one location. It has been a while since I’ve finished watching a film and felt such a refreshing sense of having seen something new, brilliantly crafted, and backed by solid performances all round.
Washed-up shock jock Grant Mazzy is struggling to adapt to the slower pace of his new job as a radio talk show host in small-town Pontypool after being fired from his big-city job. On valentines day, however, there is something strange in the air – reports of cannibalistic violence, riots, and crazy people speaking jibberish. Grant and his crew, producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), and technical-wrangler Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) soon find themselves caught up in a confusing mystery. With no news on the events appearing on any other official source, the three are left piecing together events from the partial and sometimes incoherent statements of eye witnesses. While there is clearly something very bad happening outside and it involves some kind of infection, the radio crew struggle to understand exactly what the threat is.
For everyone’s viewing pleasure I would like to suggest two “rules” for this film. Firstly, never refer to it as a zombie movie. It isn’t, and to call it a zombie movie set expectations in the minds of viewers that are only going to be disappointed. It’s inevitable that people will draw comparisons between the cannibalistic infected horde and zombies, but in truth that’s about as accurate as calling vampires and werewolves the same thing. The second thing I would suggest is this: Avoid all reviews before you see the movie. Apart from this one of course. Avoid the official website, avoid all descriptions, generally try to know as little about the movie as possible beyond what I describe for you here. While this may sound like a cheap trick on my part to stop you reading anyone else’s reviews, I assure you I’m not that cunning. The simple fact is that all the other reviews and descriptions that I have seen around give away far too much about the movie.
Filmed in HD on the Red One camera Pontypool is visually crystal sharp and never looks low-budget. But you probably won’t even notice because you’ll be so well drawn into the world on the screen anyway, and that is the sign of good cinematography and good writing. Throughout the film we have a sense of there being something very wrong in the town of Pontypool, a creepy undercurrent of unease which pervades every scene. Stephen McHattie’s rock solid performance draws us into the world of the characters, we sense their growing fear and discomfort and feel the incredible pressure on Mazzy that comes from his feeling that it is his duty and responsibility to report what is happening, to get the truth to the citizens of Pontypool.
While the appearance of a certain character later in the movie (you will know which one I mean when you see it) puts a sad dent in the overall quality thanks to an almost hammy overacting, the real gripe that most people will have with Pontypool is the ending. Without giving out too much information regarding the ending, the final act rushes along just a little too fast, rendering it near incomprehensible. Something to bear in mind is that this is the first in what is intended to be a trilogy of films based on the same book, something that is hinted at by the news reports played over the credits. However I suspect even that won’t suffice to appease the average moviegoer who will feel let down by a weak conclusion to the movie after such a strong and steady build-up all the way through.
Things to look out for: References to Neal Stevenson’s Snow Crash (if you’ve not read it and you’re a sci-fi fan I highly recommend it), and a post-credits scene.
Right from the opening monologue, which is set against a simple oscilloscope image, the tension of Pontypool kicks off and never lets up. Not once during the just over 90m runtime did I ever feel bored or wonder when the next “event” of the movie was going to happen, it all flows along at a frantic pace and draws the viewer along for the ride. All in all the most enjoyable thriller I’ve seen in a long time, but suffers from the weak ending which I suspect will be it’s downfall.