Once again, it is October, a time for scary movies and pumpkin-flavored everything whilst we try to forget the wintery inferno that swiftly approaches. But instead of the typical American fair that, while entertaining, has been overdone. I thought now might be a good year to look at other countries and see what awful, awful nightmares they have created. So, for this month, we will be looking at ghouls from across the globe, starting with our beloved neighbors to the north.
Let’s take a look at the Canadian zombie hit Pontypool.
You think that Canada would deal with zombie apocalypses with hockey sticks, maple syrup, and armies of mounties on moose. However, if this movie is to be believed, they are just as woefully unprepared as the rest of us. The tale begins with an early morning radio broadcast getting news of riots, the dead, and people randomly repeating words over and over until they turn into blood thirsty zombies that infect others or explode.
The film follows bitter radio DJ Grant Mazzy in the small, frozen tundra town of Pontypool, Ontario as he goes through a typical morning as a radio host. However, a zombie attack begins to form in the town, and no one knows how or why it started. Soon, however, the infecting device becomes clear — the English language. Where does it come from? Apparently, we never find out. Victims become stuck on words and phrases that soon consume them and turn them into mindless hosts of a virus looking for its new carrier. However, if they don’t, as happens to one of the studio aids named Laurel Ann (and a veteran, of course), they will explode in a bloody, gloppy mess. Grant and his producer Sydney try to find a way to survive locked up in the building as Pontypool ends up under government quarantine.
I have to give this movie a lot of credit for its immense creativity. The entire film (for the most part) takes place in a radio station where movement is limited but not totally claustrophobic. Having the disease that zombifies the living be a mental/linguistic one is unique, though one has to wonder if there’s some political commentary I’m just not getting about the tensions between English and French speaking Canadians. Then there are the creepy details from Ken the weatherman that add to the gravitas, like a grown adult speaking in a child’s voice, or massive crowds we never see while he’s hiding somewhere, wherein the tension mounts quickly and just a few words shift the entire mood of the film.
However, the ending leaves a bit to be desired. The implication is that a bomb goes off over or near the radio station, and we see scenes of the English speaking world becoming infected, along with Sydney and Grant going out into the world as super-stylized versions of themselves. Is it real? Did they survive, and if so, how? Still, forgiving the confusing ending, the rest of the narrative makes a lot of sense. The jokes are a little dry and dark, but it fits into place in a movie where every word you speak might literally drive you into bloody cannibalism.
The acting overall is strong on all fronts. Stephen McHattie as DJ Grant is a lot of fun to watch, with his gruff and sometimes cruel demeanor, while Lisa Houle as Sydney Briar does very much remind me of a radio producer — annoyed, overworked and just trying to keep her shit together. Laurel Ann is played by Georgina Reilly, the war veteran whose sweet and down to earth demeanor makes her the best of the radio trio, which only makes her demise all the sadder. My hands-down favorite in the cast, however, is Rick Roberts, who plays weatherman Ken. To have to act without visuals in front of you, especially when you have to be scared, that takes a lot of talent.
In terms of cinematography, I have to hand it to this indie film, it looks damn good. The radio set has a dark and dim light that adds to the suspense and danger. The music is standard horror fair, and the zombies follow that same tried and true look of graying skins and lots of blood. I will say in the beginning, there’s a lot that need to be tackled with and for that, the pacing really suffers.
In the end, Pontypool provides the world with a new kind of zombie film — one more focused on suspense and tension than blood and guts (though there’s plenty there if you want that too). If you’re looking for a funny, smart, and kind of Shaun of the Dead style walking dead flick to pick up this Halloween, consider this little film from the land of maple leaves.
– Great and creative story.
– Good acting.
– Good cinematography.
– Weird ending.
– Some parts felt a little drawn out.
– Zombies could have been more creative.