CAPSULE: This is a fresh new take on a somewhat tired sub-genre of horror. At radio station CLSY in a small rural Ontario town the shock jock with the morning radio program has to cover the strange and deadly transformation of his town. This is a very low budget horror film made for cable, but it has some nice and clever ideas. This is a particularly Canadian horror film. It could have been set in the US, but there are political reasons that it works so much better in Canada. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler warning: I will try to reveal few of the twists, but the whole premise of the film is a twist.
It was not very long ago that the United States and Britain monopolized the horror film in the world market. There was a sprinkling of films from France, Spain, and Italy, but they were not the better films available. Certainly the United States's neighbors Canada and Mexico were making films that were at best second-rate. Of course Canada had David Cronenberg and Mexico somewhat later had Guillermo del Toro. But this year Mexico's SLEEP DEALER and Canada's PONTYPOOL rank as high as any United States science fiction films I have seen. (I wait anxiously for MOON to become available.)
PONTYPOOL plays with an idea new to the science fiction field. It is telling more than I should to say that this is a film that will inaccurately be called a "zombie" movie. There are no undead zombies, however this film has parallels to zombie films. Something is loose in Pontypool, Ontario, and the concept of it is an interesting philosophical idea.
It is a cold Valentine's Day morning in the rural Canadian town of Pontypool. We are inside a radio station where the voice broadcasting is that of bad-boy host Grant Mazzy (nicely played by Stephen McHattie). Mazzy has gotten himself thrown out of larger markets because of his penchant for rubbing people the wrong way. His producer, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) has her hands full controlling the shock jock beneath the cowboy hat and beard. Technician Lauren-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly), recently returned from serving in Afghanistan, tries to stay out of Mazzy's and Briar's wrangling with each other. Mazzy thinks that getting his listeners angry is the best way to boost his ratings. And Sydney has to pull the leash on him ever few moments.
The stories this morning include a missing cat and Mazzy wants to talk about the strange woman who inexplicably attacked his car on the way in to work. These stories may or may not be connected to what the unseen Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) is observing from his vantage point in the Sunshine Chopper. He reports a mob of people has inexplicably "exploded" into the streets and is attacking a doctor's office. This is the sort of thing that just does not happen in a placid countryside town like Pontypool. Soon the radio station will be right in the middle of the action.
The pacing of the film starts slowly. Little things start going wrong. It is becoming clear that something strange and deadly has happened in town. But it is a while before there is any real kind of action. We hear what is happening in town, but never see it first-hand or ever leave the radio station building. (That gives the film a claustrophobic feel and at the same time must have really held the budget down.) The film could almost be a radio play. In fact, it was done as a radio drama played on BBC World Theatre, where I heard it. Toward the end the film version becomes considerably more visual, but both versions are surprisingly good.
Setting this film away from the action, at least initially, and having the news come in from offstage gives this film some of the feel of the Orson Welles "Invasion from Mars/War of the Worlds" broadcast. It forces the viewer/listener to create the images of what is happening. The film is worth a watch. It is currently playing on the Independent Film Channel and at film festivals, but will go to DVD January 26, 2010. I rate PONTYPOOL a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. One problem I had: Grant Mazzy reads on a sort of horrific obituary to people who had been victims of this outbreak, but there is no way he could have had the information he is reading. The end of the film also seems to be incomprehensible and bizarre for the sake of bizarre.
Pontypool. Pontypool. Pont... Pont...
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1226681/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/pontypool/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper