Pontypool

I love zombie films. As a teen I watched Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead probably way too many times. Now with the advent of The Walking Dead coming to UK television via the FX channel it seems like as good a time as any to talk about the scariest zombie film of recent years.

Pontypool

Major movie-sinking spoilers ahead:

Based on a book by Tony Burgess the film centres on radio DJ, Grant Mazzy. A firing from a previous job and a snowstorm has reduced him to bitterly relaying information on school closures, missing cats and traffic reports for a modest morning show in the provinces of Canada. Alone with his strict producer and a young engineer fresh from Afghanistan, he deals with a series of sketchy stories about mobs massing, chanting words and attacking motorists and hospitals. The number and seriousness of the stories escalate as the night wears on until it’s literally at his front door whilst he attempts to keep broadcasting.

Two points about this film:

  1. It is original:

As numerous reviews have probably pointed out, it’s very original. The zombie contagion isn’t a government experiment gone wrong or a crashed satellite, it is language. English in particular. Something we use every day without a second thought. As a scientist clarifies, there is a,

“Monster loose bouncing through language and understanding.”

The concept alone is genuinely smart and scary when you stop and think about it. Like Hitchcock’s The Bird’s, something we take for granted suddenly becomes alien and the means of our destruction. When the BBC get in on the act the scale of this threat dwarfs all other zombie films previously made.

It also has a neat political angle when one considers that the military presence trying to maintain order in this Canadian province are Québécois, insisting that talking in English, even to family members, is prohibited. This draws on the history of French-Canadian rebellions and resentment. However, it is the small stories that feed into the wider narrative that pack the punch even if the film throws out the atmosphere in the final act.

 2.   It is scary:

Even though the film takes place in one location you get the feel of the whole province and the nature of its people from the battles between the producer, trying to keep Grant on track with local stories, and Grant whilst he tries to get the bigger picture.

The reports from locals of attacks as they escalate are increasingly tense and genuinely chilling with the traffic reporter (really a guy in his car), facing danger and delivering some eye-witness reports that ratchet up tension as you fear for his safety.

The acting is perfect as calls from terrified locals increase the tension using words that don’t quite describe the true nature of the threat and the central cast (including Britain’s Georgina Reilly) feel realistic as people trying to fathom the meaning behind these words and what these strange reports must auger whilst deciding what to broadcast.  

This film works on the audience’s ability to infer from the reports that zombies are out there and visualise the chaos unfolding even though the characters are clueless.

It culminates in a creepy atmosphere that builds up especially because the chaps back at the radio station are reliant on others information.

Stephen McHattie is great as Grant Mazzy. Like a real-life DJ, he is the engine of the show and his performance conveys the presence and skill a DJ requires, helped along by his smoky voice the sort of which you only hear in movies. His rebelliousness is endearing if strangely suicidal at points.

I liked this film a lot. The tension got me in a way few modern zombie films do and my heart was in my mouth during the reports. The characters were all compelling and believable and intelligently handled and I recommend watching this film.

2 thoughts on “Pontypool

  1. Stephen McHattie is so brilliant as Grant Mazzy that he would have shone bright even in a lesser film. I am a huge fan of Pontypool, originality counts for a lot and it’s Canadian (like me!) so it gets brownie points for that.

    1. Canadians have always been cool. I loved Scott Pilgrim. I also love Pontypool which has to be one of the best horror films of recent years. Or ever when I think about it. David Cronenberg has always been cool.
      And Stephen McHattie is such an interesting and compelling actor to watch.

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