Thursday, October 22, 2009

more than words

I've been waiting to see Pontypool forever. After reading all of the reviews, trying to find a copy in a local video store, ordering an over-priced DVD from an online seller (whom I'm convinced is hoarding all the world's copies), and checking my mailbox every day for its arrival, I was certain that I'd built the movie up so much in my head that there was no way it couldn't be a total disappointment. Fortunately, and as is often the case, I was wrong. Pontypool is awesome.

Set in a small town in Ontario, the majority of the film takes place in a church basement where a daily morning radio show is broadcast. Host Grant Mazzy, producer Sydney Briar, and assistant Laurel Anne begin receiving confusing phone calls in which townspeople are babbling incoherently. Their traffic reporter in the "Sunshine Chopper" (actually his Dodge Dart perched on top of a hill), calls in to report rioting outside of a local clinic. The riot devolves into people trampling one another, and eventually turns horrifically violent. The townspeople start to rip one another apart, while chanting terms of endearment and speaking in baby voices. Throughout the chaos, our three main characters remain in the radio station, listening to eyewitness reports of the violence, but having no real confirmation of what's happening in the outside world.

Though Pontypool is considered a zombie movie, that label certainly doesn't do justice to the psychological horror that the film accomplishes. There isn't much gore, there aren't any startles, and the zombies don't get much screen time. Most of the tension arises from hearing horrific incidents described, with no visual confirmation. The main characters are frantically trying to make sense of an unexplainable situation, and their realization that the virus is spread through the English language is terrifying. While trying to work together to survive, they are unable to speak to one another or broadcast warnings to the outside world. The movie's tagline is, appropriately, "Shut Up or Die."

Pontypool's screenwriter (who also wrote Pontypool Changes Everything, the novel on which the movie is based) doesn't refer to the infected as zombies. Instead, he calls them "conversationalists," an intensely creepy term for people driven so insane that they are trying to eat the words out of one another. It's an incredibly original concept, further elevated by great performances from all the actors. Stephen McHattie nails his performance as shock jock Grant Mazzy, and the characters interact with such believability that it's impossible not to find yourself invested in their well-being.

If you don't feel like waiting for a month to get a DVD of your own, Pontypool is available on demand and will be screened at The International Zombie Summit in Stockhold, WI on October 24th.

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