Pontypool should have just went with zombies. As the reasoning behind the zombie like “Conversationlists” is a bit-far flung for my suspension of disbelief. I have a feeling that it worked better in the novel Pontypool’s based on, Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess. Pontypool has some intense, well shot moments and characters that are both like-able and relatable. There are far more things I like about Pontypool than I dislike and I want to make that clear. Director Bruce McDonald crafts a solid horror film that delivers on the horror.
Pontypool starts with radio shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) driving to work on a dark, snowy day in the small town of Pontypool. At a red light a woman in distress appears out the dark and snow, bangs on his passenger window, mumbles something that can be heard over the storm before she fades back in the darkness. Unable to see the woman and unnerved, continues to work where he greeted by his co-workers Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly), the audio tech and Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle). Shortly after starting to air, they get unconfirmed reports of a riot of some kind at the office Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak). Their weather reporter Ken Lonely (Rick Roberts) calls in describing the scene as chaos with people acting crazed before being cut off. The crew scrabbles to get some kind of confirmation from the police or official channels, but are unable to reach anyone. Ken calls back after taking refuge in a grain silo and describes the scene. As people are trying to eat their way inside of one another before tearing themselves apart. They are also repeating words and phrases. An infected man crashes through the wall after Ken, who becomes blocked by an emergency transmission in French. Laurel-Ann translates the message, which declares Pontypool under quarantine, tells every to stay indoors and avoid terms of endearment along with the English language. Beliving now to be the victim of a hoax or cruel joke Mazzy tries to leave the station when it becomes assaulted by dozens of infected. After barricading the doors, the group’s joined by Dr. Mazzy, who sneaks in through a window, just as Laurel-Ann starts to succumb to the virus, repeating the word Missing and mimicking the sound of a tea kettle. Dr. Mazzy gets Syndney and Mazzy into the sound proof, sound booth. The three watch as Laurel-Ann worsens and the infected breach the station…
I the small cast works incredibly well in this story, as you’re just in the dark to what’s going on as the characters are. The sense of dread is palpitate as the film continues, but does peter out a bit towards the end. The main cast does outstanding work, with Georgina Reilly doing an amazing job. Stephen McHattie, who I mistake for Lance Henriksen far too often and Lisa Houle play great off each other. Though their love story-line feels incredibly shoehorned in and comes kind of out of nowhere. Which is odd as they’re married in real life. The only performance that I didn’t enjoy was Hrant Alianak, who I can’t fault as he was given some of the worst exposition to dump.
My favorite part of Pontypool is after Laurel-Ann’s infected and we get to watch her deteriorate mentally. Which takes place at the same time as Dr. Mazzy gives the worst explanation for what’s happening. That words have become infected and our understanding them allows the virus to propagate. Words are infected. Words. It’s just the worst possible reasoning. Maybe it was better explained and explored in the novel. But here it feels like a hot mess.
The film is simply and at time elegantly shot. With the limitations of the story and set, Bruce McDonald did a great job. Even if his vision did come out a bit like a rehashing of zombies, at the least it felt fresh.
Final thoughts, Good but flawed is how I can best sum up Pontypool. It could have done without trying to explain what was going on or least done so less ham-handedly. Still, it does deliver on the fronts of both dread and revulsion. Crafting an entertaining narrative with strong characters and would easily recommend this film. 8/10