CAPSULE: PONTYPOOL (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Bruce McDonald

FEATURING: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

PLOT: Zombies who aren’t really zombies wreak havoc upon the peaceful (i.e. dull) Canadian town of Pontypool. We’re taken through the terror through the perspective of a local FM Zoo Crew DJ and his associates as more and more reports come into the station describing unnaturally violent tendencies in a growing minority of residents possibly infected with some kind of virus.
Still from Pontypool (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Pontypool is merely a zombie movie with a twist. While it’s an admittedly interesting twist, I can’t help but feel that there’s not really a weird sensibility behind this project.  It’s original at times, strikingly original, and the writing is crisper than this little project merited, so it’s definitely a “good ‘un,” but it doesn’t stand out as freaky as much as it does slightly ahead of the curve in the horror genre.

COMMENTS:  Pontypool exists at that strange nether region between genius and camp that had me at “Sunshine Chopper.”  It’s a film that’s joyously in love with itself and the creativity that spawned it.  What’s so special about it? Well, besides the ingenious FM radio motif that anyone who’s ever been stuck in a commute will appreciate, it’s a film about the power of the spoken word.  Here, it’s English.  You see, what’s affecting these violent people is what can best be described as a virus affecting our collective language.  The people infected aren’t trying to kill other people as much as they are wanting to bite the words out of someone else’s mouth.  They’re stricken with a severe communications breakdown, and the mental anguish this inflicts upon said victim causes them to lash out violently.  It’s a really wicked concept, and I’m really quite impressed with the wit and cleverness involved with such an idea.  In the end, it’s really just a zombie movie, and it certainly has its limitations as far as the execution goes.  The soundtrack by Claude Foisy is weak and rather placid, the camerawork is hardly what anyone would call dynamic, and the actors are pretty green with the notable exception of the always-reliable Stephen McHattie.  But it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re a fan of the zombie film; as far as that niche goes, this blows about 65% of its peers out of the water and onto the shore for them to writhe uncontrollably, as is a zombie’s wont.  But as a weird movie, it has a long way to go in the grand scheme of things.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The suspense is carefully built up, but the film starts to get a little sticky, even risible, when it appears that the virus driving people mad is carried by words, specifically English ones, so the survivors in the studio start to converse in Franglais. But for the most part it’s compellingly apocalyptic.”–Philip French, The Observer

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: PONTYPOOL (2008)”

  1. I loved Pontypool.

    Yeah, it certainly doesn’t deserve to be on the list, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

    Essentially, it’s a one room play. I don’t like one room plays. However, Pontypool was fun because it ends up being a game of trying to figure out what is going on, which is my favorite game to play with movies.

    It’s certainly not a perfect movie. The dialogue revolving around the big reveal of the secret is way too on-the-nose. Language as virus? Fantastic. The talking about it under duress, not particularly believable. But it’s certainly a fun movie, and I admire any movie that doesn’t shy away with being literate.

    Pontypool was a very fun excursion. It’s not the second coming, but it’s very well-made and very enjoyable. Not weird with a capital “W,” but well worth your watching time.

    The cast is all uniformly great, but special mention should be made to Stephen McHattie, who has a face made for cinema. Hard, craggy features with piercing blue eyes and a voice that could kill.

    A fun, sort of insane movie.

  2. Actually I’d say “Pontypool” pegs the weird-o-meter in the last act and should surely be on the list. Very allegorical and deep film, with polysemous dialogue. It is not a typical zombie film by any measure. Despite being limited to the radio station in the church basement, the camerawork makes great use of shallow depth of field and is quite artistic throughout. Remarkable achievement!

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