Director: Bruce McDonald (2008)
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly
Semi alcoholic shock-jock Grant Mazzy (McHattie) is DJ at a radio station in the small Canadian town of Pontypool. It's a position where he's utterly wasted; spending his days reporting on missing cats, fluff theatre pieces and weather alerts. Whenever he gets a little too provocative (suggesting that the town's police force are all alkies, for example) he's torn a new asshole by his weary producer, Sydney (Houle). They have a nice little House relationship going on. Also present is ex-military squaddie turned technician Laurel-Ann (Reilly). It's so fun watching the three bicker and argue that it's almost a shame when the zombies turn up.
Although they don't, really. Turn up, that is. And they're not even proper zombies. Like the War of the Worlds radio play, you never get to see any of the action. There's a massive zombie apocalypse at hand, but literally none of it is shown onscreen. Nope, it's described through news reports and via the station's "eye in the sky", Ken Loney. Ken describes violent, chilling scenes, all of which are made more powerful because we never get to see any of it happening.
Some might find this aspect frustrating, but when you watch Pontypool, you'll understand that the reliance on description is entirely the point: Pontypool is all about the power of words. And, as an English degree student, just that idea in itself makes me climax in my pants. Ahem. Unlike your more conventional zombie horror, the virus in Pontypool is spread through words. It's explained (unfortunately rather cack-handedly, by a convienient doctor character) that the English language has become 'infected' and the use of certain words induces a zombie-like state of hysteria and lunacy. As a concept, it's closer to The Crazies than it is Dawn of the Dead. Much as I enjoyed the recent Crazies remake, it would've been nice to see it handled a little more intelligently like this.
Much of Pontypool's success is owed to the casting of Stephen McHattie as Mazzy. If he really did have his own radio show, I would blatantly listen in every day. He has a wonderful, gruff, gravelly voice that makes me feel things that I'm really not comfortable with. There's a joke about Mazzy having a face for radio, but it's actually perfectly suited to film. Just look at the DVD cover above: McHattie's facial expressions in this movie are awesome. He has a good supporting cast and everything, but I wouldn't have minded just McHattie sat on his own in the recording studio for two hours.
That said, the final quarter of the movie isn't quite as compelling as the preceeding parts. The introduction of a doctor feels forced and overly convenient, whilst there seems to be a lot of melodrama for melodrama's sake. I wasn't overly sold on the tone either, which veers between comedy, horror and dead straight. Still, Mister McHattie makes it all eminently watchable, and it's all so very original that it's hard to complain too much.
Pontypool is one of the most intelligent, tense and well-acted movies I've seen in recent years. And it has a wonderful title that I could sit and repeat for hours on end. Pontypool, pontypool, pontypool. Shit, I think I've been infected.