' ' Cinema Romantico: Pontypool

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


A high minded concept with a low budget setting, Bruce McDonald's 2009 film, functioning as a kind of zombie-ish take on Orson Welles' infamous 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, is set almost entirely inside a small radio station located in the rural Ontario town of Pontypool.

As it opens on a wintry Valentine's Day, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), the station's shock jock, rambles on the airwaves in his usual manner, his trusted producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) and technician Laurel-Anne (Georgina Reilly) watching, listening and assisting from just outside the booth. Eventually strange reports begin to trickle in from the station's "eye in the sky", Ken Loney (Rick Roberts, voice only), of a mob gathered outside the home of the local Dr. Mendez which gives way to a brutal, murderous riot. More reports of more unconfirmed riots and more murders make their way to the station, none of which Sydney and Laurel-Anne can confirm. Is it a hoax or isn't it? Who knows? The BBC patches through to the station and asks Grant questions about "insurgent" strikes. It's just more confusion. What's going on out there?

The first hour of "Pontypool" is extraordinarily effective. It's not really showing but despite all the talking it's also not really telling either. By restricting the setting to this one place it levels the playing field. We know as much as this trio, no more, no more less, which adds to the tension.

The acting here is primarily re-acting and, in the case of McHattie, very much about inflecting. His work could, in a way, be considered a visual voiceover, his husky growl taking us through the varying stages of emotion - humorously combative and then confused and then frightened and then ominous and then defiant.

Unfortunately the film hits a wall at the 60 minute mark and, tragically, it seemed unavoidable. Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) will suddenly, magically, conveniently come sliding through a side window into the radio station, in theory to get away from the virused mobs babbling particular words over and over that are after him but in reality to explain to our main characters, and to us, precisely what is going on so no one is in the dark.  Namely, the virus seems to be spreading via selected words.  Hmmmmmm.....

In these trying times, of course, horror cannot merely be horror and must often seek to make some sort of social statement. "Pontypool" obviously is taking aim at our jabber-infested airwaves and its glut of misinformation. "We were never makin' sense," Grant declares into his microphone in a line meant to summarize the movie's larger message in one felled swoop. But is not making sense a bad thing? Oddly, the more sense "Pontypool" makes, the less effective it becomes.

Not that it didn't make me think. For instance, will the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse be brought about by Glenn Beck? Is his voice the harbinger of the end of the world and no one realizes it? Will the virus spread via "faith", "freedom" and "government"?  There's a scary thought for Halloween. Or Election Day. Either/Or.


Wretched Genius said...

Hot damn, Nick reviewed an indie horror! And had pretty much the same opinion about it as I did. That's...actually kind of shocking.

I..I don't know what is real anymore.

Nick Prigge said...

Well, you know, it was Halloween and all. I decided to get into the spirit of things. There is another horror related post coming tomorrow even!

Wretched Genius said...

Is it The Walking Dead? I bet it's The Walking Dead. It's The Walking Dead, isn't it? For the love of God, tell me it's The Walking Dead!

Seriously though, amazing show.

Nick Prigge said...

Uh...I'm afraid to report I'm unfamiliar with "The Walking Dead", though I'm sure it's a fine, fine show.

Wretched Genius said...

It's the new critically acclaimed, Frank Darabont-produced, series that just set AMC's record for viewership, beating out Mad Men and Breaking Bad.