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A movie directed by Bruce McDonald

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Radio silence in a solid Canadian zombie flick that utilizes the slow-burn effect.

  • Apr 29, 2012
*** out of ****

I was not aware that there was really a small town in Ontario, Canada called Pontypool until I saw the movie of the same name. There is also a Pontypool located in North Wales, but you know which one I'm talking about when I say that this is a Canadian horror film. I don't suppose the Pontypool of Ontario is very populated, although it might still be lively. It's such a tiny and seldom spoken of town that one could remember the houses and local businesses by name. Or at least that's what I gather after some brief researching. Anyways, I'm told there is a church somewhere in Pontypool, and since the story takes place in one, I'll assume it's the actual church of Pontypool. That's one thing I didn't find whilst snooping around: the truth behind whether the film was shot in the town that it's set in, and if that was really the basement of a church (where most of the action takes place). Take one look at the thing and you'll be able to tell that this is low-budget filmmaking, but I have no doubt on my mind that budget restraints would limit where you can shoot a movie in a town that close to no one acknowledges.

Inspired in part by Orson Well's "War of the Words" (more-so the radio show days than the novel), the plot concerns the said church, the radio station/studio located underneath it, and the people who are called into work on a particularly snowy day. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), the host of Pontypool's very own radio station, arrives late and proceeds to enrage his boss - the station manager Sydney (Lisa Houle) - and charm the technical assistant - Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) -. On his way to work, he encountered a strange and distressed middle-aged woman who approached his car speaking in what was either gibberish or another language completely. He is disturbed by the fact that, as she retired back to the blizzard outside the vehicle, she kept repeating the words that Grant kept calling out to her. Of course, he asks the listeners whether this means anything.

Meanwhile, the weatherman (a helicopter reporter who isn't actually in a helicopter at all but rather standing on a hill with sound effects by his side to make it all feel naturalistic) updates the rest of the crew on the harsh weather conditions the town is facing, and gives them a little something extra as well. After the weather, the reporter claims to be overseeing a violent riot that has broken out at the office of a Doctor Mendez. People die in all the chaos, and the line between reporter and Grant is cut off a few times, leaving those in the studio in suspense until the line comes back up. When it does, the weatherman has moved closer to the scene and is now in the presence of a few of the crazed locals. He puts the microphone up to the mouth of one of the resident's children - in one of the film's more chilling moments - and what we hear from the other end is what sounds like a baby's cries. We're all thinking the same thing: impossible.

Eventually, Dr. Mendez escapes the scene outside his office and makes his way to the church. He fills all the other characters in on just what's going on. According to his words, a virus has made its way into the English language. How it did so, we don't know. Nevertheless, certain words and phrases are now deemed "infected", and if they are repeated and eventually understood, the virus can take over a host body, which would explain the outburst of violence mentioned earlier. The civilians are ready to break into the church, babbling on about basically nothing in ridiculously creepy ways, and the remaining survivors are going to have to find out a way to keep on living. To emerge victorious at the end of the ordeal, Grant, Sydney, and the Doctor come up with a plan to get them through the rest of this horrible, horrible day. Who survives, who doesn't, and what the conclusion to this epic tale of inevitable apocalyptic doom may be is not my job to spoil.

I've always thought the phrase "sticks and stones will break by bones but words will never hurt me" was silly, but now I can officially confirm that it's complete bullshit. "Pontypool" has a premise that will probably remind a lot of people of some sort of zombie survival-horror flick, but indeed it does try to be something much more. The repetition of phrases and words from the "infected" turns out to be pretty damn ominous for some time, although it's arguably even creepier when we don't get a physical representation of the zombie-like beings. The best moments in "Pontypool" are the radio transmissions; in which we can't see what the guy at the other end is, and must use our imaginations - the greatest of tools, the greatest of weapons - to put the pieces of the invisible puzzle together. Of course, the film is dark, depressing, and relentlessly claustrophobic; but unlike a lot of films like it, it's actually pretty darn scary. McHattie's energetic performance also helps to elevate the material by giving it a bit of a comic edge, leveling out the overall tone to something that will agree with most horror audiences.

"Pontypool" was written by Tony Burgess - working from an original novel, so I'm told - and directed by Bruce McDonald. Together, these two men have devised something ingenious and creepy, something that gets under your skin without absolutely mutilating it. Perhaps that alone is why the film can never be great, but at the same time, seldom is indie horror ever that. The movie does its job, and efficiently enough at that. I'm not ignorant enough to make false claims such as that it's a flawless film -the supporting performances are forgettable with the actors simply doing their job and nothing more, and it becomes less frightening once the crazy people break in) but this is still a tense little thrill-ride. It utilizes slow-burn suspense stylistics and makes great use of moody camerawork/sound design; rendering it perhaps an exceptional achievement in the technical fields alone. But if you're looking for something of a higher (meaning deeper) humanistic caliber, you might want to look elsewhere.

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June 10, 2012
Excellent, thought out review.
More Pontypool reviews
review by . October 31, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
While broadcasting his daily show from the local radio station in the small Ontario town of Pontypool, shock jock Grant Mazzy discovers some strange things going on. As he reports on the infestation of a strange virus that leads local residents to behave violently, he comes to suspect that he is himself spreading it through his words.    Pontypool is a small and deceptively simple film, that takes place almost entirely inside a local radio studio, but manages to feel dynamic …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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GRADE: A. One-of-a-kind zombie film. --Entertainment Weekly
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Director: Bruce McDonald
DVD Release Date: January 26, 2010
Runtime: 96 minutes
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