'Pontypool' Review: Don't Talk
As it is with the zombie virus, it’s a bit hard to pinpoint what is the “Patient Zero” of the Zombie Film Renaissance. It could be easier to look at the year 2002 and two of its films: Resident Evil and 28 Days Later. The former was successful enough to spawn numerous sequels, but critically reviled while the latter wouldn’t find its place in the cultural zeitgeist until the following year when it was released internationally to critical acclaim and a strong box office run, especially for a low-budget British film. In addition, the movie payed homage and subverted many of the tropes of the zombie genre, giving us fast, raging, lively zombies unlike the shambling, blue-skinned creatures we had grown accustomed to. Whether James Gunn (and uncredited writers Scott Frank and Michael Tolkin) decided to take a cue from Danny Boyle’s film or it was a case of “great minds think alike”, it’s unclear, but the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead further cemented fast zombies into contemporary film culture, but also seemed to revive (I’m owning that pun) zombie films. Perhaps it was these movies made us reflect about what would we do if one day we woke up and found the world turned upside down.
Since then, it seems like every six months, we have a zombie movie, a new TV show, comic book, novel...you name it. There have been calls of genre fatigue but it seems like when they’re done right, these zombies do very well. So, who’s tired really? But of course, they must bring in something new and interesting to the genre to stand out. Pontypool is one such film.
The movie tells the story of a night in shock jock Grant Mazzy’s job, where not only he and his partners must deal with a blizzard outside but also with, you guessed it, zombies. Except this virus doesn’t exactly behave like your traditional zombie virus, instead, your language gets messed up until you can no longer express yourself and the less said about the rest, the better. Pontypool goes by like a breeze; it’s fast-paced and short, a good formula for a rather self-contained horror movie. Director Bruce McDonald keeps the setting claustrophobic enough, but never to the point of exhaustion. Him and cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak and editor Jeremiah Munce do creative but subtle camerawork that keeps the proceedings dynamic.
One of the fun things about the movie is that plenty is left of the imagination. There’s subplots with reporters from outside the station as well as people calling in with their own stories about the virus to tell. None of these are visualized but the performances and the judging per these scenes, the writing is so strong that they’re not needed. It’s a great example of the power of leaving things to the imagination.
There’s a lot to be said for Stephen McHattie’s performance, a tremendously underused and underrated actor who should be getting more roles like this one. He truly has a voice for the radio and brings in a very nuanced performance. The other two leads in this film, Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly also do a good job, creating strong chemistry between each other, but also McHattie’s character, we easily believe they have been working together a long time, and at the same time the characters have a nuance and backstory, all told in broad strokes but we feel like we get to know them like real people.
It should be said that the movie isn’t full-blown horror, instead it’s more horror comedy. The movie always takes itself seriously but allows humor to come from the characters and situation, but when it needs to be brutal or scary it is. If there’s something that keeps the movie from reaching a modern classic status is perhaps that its second half isn’t as strong as the first. It slows down too much and doesn’t quite have the same level of ideas as the first half. Regardless, if you want a scary, funny and imaginative horror film that is also thought-provoking, this one is for you.
Final Say: Watch It