Pontypool (2008)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Pontypool</strong> (2008)

(On Cable TV, January 2019) It took me far too long to see the unusual Canadian horror film Pontypool, considering that it starts with a great setup for a zombie movie and then leaps into something much stranger. It doesn’t quite manage to deliver a satisfying ending, but at least it tries something unusual and does feature some great atmosphere along the way. It all starts with a radio shock jock (played with sufficient panache by Stephen McHattie) on the first day of his new job in a small Ontario town—driven out of the big markets thanks to some unspecified offence, he brings big-city attitude to a folksy community. The community has other plans than to listen patiently—before long, his intention to sleepwalk through yet another morning show is dashed by reports of violence within broadcasting range. Stuck in the confines of his studio with his manager and assistant, he tries to piece together a local story with global implications, and soon finds himself besieged by attackers behaving strangely like zombies. But not exactly zombies, as something far more bizarre is happening, something having to do with a word-based virus. By the end of the film, Pontypool plays with language and semiotics and the nature of reality itself. (Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash even gets a visual shout-out.) If its sound ambitious and heady, it’s perhaps no surprise that the film disintegrates slightly toward the end, as it doesn’t quite manage to leap to that next level gracefully—and the post-credit sequence sort-of makes sense if you read about it, but feels cool-yet-awkward without considerable hand-holding. Director Bruce McDonald (working from a script by Tony Burgess adapting his own book) does manage quite a few nice things along the way, though—even by taking place essentially on one set, Pontypool creates an interesting fusion of Wolfman-Jack-meets-rural-Ontario, effectively cranks up the tension throughout the film and eventually delivers a conclusion of sorts, even though I wish the third act could have been rewritten, clarified and executed more persuasively. There are a lot of cool ideas here (the idea of English being “infected” while French isn’t could lead to the Great Politically Charged Canadian SF Novel considering the bilingual nature of the country, but that’s merely brushed upon here). Pontypool still comes up frequently in discussions of cinematic “gems you haven’t yet seen” and it’s easy to see why—even at a time when zombie-type movies are overexposed, this one still has a few things to say.

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