Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Pontypool

Dir. Bruce McDonald, 2009

Recently fired from a top-rating gig, the only job shock-jock Grant Mazzey has been able to secure is the early morning show at a tiny radio station in the small, snowbound town of Pontypool. What begins as just another average, crappy day soon turns deadly, however, as sporadic reports begin to come in of crowds of locals developing strange speech patterns and evoking horrendous acts of violence. As the station itself falls under siege, Mazzey fights to stay on-air and keep whatever remains of his audience informed. But what if the broadcast itself, or even the act of speaking, is actually responsible for the transmission of this bizarre illness..?

Adapted from the brilliant novel Pontypool Changes Everything (reviewed here) by Tony Burgess (who also scripted the movie), Pontypool is a highly unsettling thriller that is bound to attract a cult following. The lead actors all turn in wonderful performances; Stephen McHattie in particular is terrific, his rich voice giving credibility to his role as a radio DJ. The single-set location, and the fact that virtually all information on the atrocities occurring outside is imparted via radio and phone only, generates a highly claustrophobic and creepy atmosphere.

One of the minor quibbles I do have with Pontypool is that the skillfully-crafted atmosphere is undermined slightly by a couple of (admittedly necessary) verbal infodumps late in the piece, which serve purely to let the audience know what's really going on. Of course, time restraints preclude the script from addressing such issues as organically and satisfyingly as in the novel; by the same token, we're also denied much of Burgess' wonderful literary imagery, internal dialogue and character backstory that simply wouldn't survive the leap from prose to celluloid. That said, Burgess has cunningly skirted the need for such things by not scripting Pontypool as a literal adaptation of his novel, but rather a 'meanwhile, on the other side of town' sidebar to the existing text, and as such the movie stands extremely well as a stand-alone product.

This is definitely a movie that all fans of dark fare should see. The DVD release is currently available for hire in Australia, and makes perfect - if unsettling -winter viewing.

(Originally posted to HorrorScope, 2010)


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the novel yet. The movie put me off it. I thought it was a B-movie. Mazzey seemed to act for the camera and felt transparent. I couldn't connect with him. I did enjoy communications with the 'pilot'. There were a number of motivations where I thought 'That's stooopid!' Such are opinions.

Chuck McKenzie said...

Chris, you absolutely *must* read the book! It's one of the best pieces of zomfic ever - and very different from the movie, as I mentioned. If you don't like it, I personally guarantee that I will run nekkid through a horde of walking dead.

Karen said...

The writer of Pontypool, Tony Burgess has a zombie short story and an except from the script for Pontypool 2 in the new zombie anthology, Holiday of the Dead. Here's the link;