When a film opens with sound waves moving up and down, and a man with a soothing voice talks about a missing cat, and some sort-of conspiracy behind it all, one knows they’re in for a different type of movie experience. Hell, when a movie is called Pontypool – it’s pretty clear the movie’s going to be unique. I watched “Pontypool” for the reason of receiving it in a Not-So-Secret-Santa blogathon ran by Nick over at the Cinematic Katzenjammer. I’m glad I did receive this film, because it would have never landed on my radar if I hadn’t – and no, not only because it has a name like Pontypool.
Mostly because I hadn’t heard of it before – and, even though I do like the occasional lethal infection sort-of movie – I might not have picked it out. The movie has a satirical way about it, and there are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, even if none are entirely memorable. I like the message of how English media may turn citizens into mindless beings who are destined to repeat themselves, stuck in an everyday routine. This pays homage to zombie movies and viral infection movies, as well as taking influence from H.G. Wells’ radio play, “War of the Worlds.” This very much feels like a radio play, throughout the first half, at least.
Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is an average everyday radio personality who is front and centre throughout this feature about a small Ontario town plagued by some sort-of sickness, that begins with violent behaviour and quickly escalates.
The reason I have kept the synopsis of the film so brief is because that’s how it is for the first half of the film. Taut and vague. It is a masterwork in tension building. We are outside briefly with Mazzy before he gets to work – where he encounters a strange woman – but when he gets to the radio station and closes the front doors, we are right there with him. As well as the radio show’s producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and a tech gal, Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly). That is the primary cast, and Reilly is competent, as is Houle, but McHattie’s the real star. We only know as much as Mazzy and co. do, only hearing about the going-ons outdoors from eyewitnesses and Ned in the Sunshine Copter. We never really know whether or not it’s a virus or a zombie film until the action comes.
And that’s one of the smartest things about the movie: it keeps us in the dark. Some movies have great tension-building and horrible pay-offs, but that isn’t completely the case with this. It has some great tense scenes in the third act, and some great thrills. But the first half of it is superior, much like most modern horrors. It wouldn’t be completely horrifying for most because there aren’t huge scares (but then again, I don’t think the film-makers were going for huge scares), but it’s a bit spookier for me, since the setting of Pontypool, Ontario is right in my province and four hours away from me. It seems to make it a bit more real for me, than it might for others.
“Pontypool” is a unique horror/thriller that has fun with its premise and creates a taut atmosphere in the process. Since it gives us limited knowledge in the beginning, it allows us to try to piece the puzzle together, without being too vague or too obvious. The tension building is the most memorable aspect of the movie.
Nick wants us to be creative with our reviews — so I’ll make a haiku of the movie to finish things off:
scary and taut with good cast
and funny title