Saturday, April 10, 2010

Movie review: Pontypool

I don't know where I heard of Pontypool - here or here probably, but darned if I can find the actual posts - but I am sure glad I did.  I knew Mr. Mouse wouldn't be interested in it so I kicked him out of the t.v. room so I could watch it in peace; I'm actually glad that he was just in the next room, watching old Police videos on Youtube, because this is a taut, scary little movie and I might have freaked myself out if it had just been me in the house.

Set in the tiny, rural town of, you guessed it, Pontypool (an actual town in Ontario, not all that far from Rochester, New York), this is a zombie flick, but zombies in the vein of 28 Days Later or Stephen King's Cell (BTW: I heard they were trying to film that one - anyone heard anything about that?).  It's Valentine's Day and former talk radio star Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie, excellent with that fabulous gravelly, bourbon-and-cigarettes voice of his), now relegated to being the morning host of a local radio show in this one-horse town, is morosely on his way to work.  When he stops at a stop sign, a woman appears out of nowhere in the dark pre-dawn hours, snow whirling around her, and bangs on his window.  She speaks to him but it's gibberish and then she disappears back into the dark.  Disturbed, Mazzy continues on his way to the radio station.

His producer, Sydney, and the radio tech, Laurel-Ann, are already there.  Young, pretty, local women, they appreciate Mazzy's talent but wish he'd take the job a little more seriously.  Not to worry: soon enough things turn extremely serious.  The weather and traffic guy, Ken (said to be flying over Pontypool in the "Sunshine Chopper" but actually perched up on a hill in his Dodge Dart), calls in reporting a riot in town in which hundreds of people have swarmed a doctor's office.  Ken tells the radio staff that the weight of the people crawling over the building has collapsed its walls.  Stuck in their basement studio, Mazzy et al. think this may be a hoax ... until Ken calls back later, in a panic, reporting that now the swarms of people are repeating nonsense words and eating each other.

What unfolds is a classic zombie vs. survivors story except for some new and interesting twists.  First, as alluded to above, the "zombies" aren't true zombies: the people are still alive, but their higher brain functions are gone, destroyed by a virus, and all they want to do is eat the uninfected.  Second, the virus isn't transmitted by blood or saliva or even the air - it's spread by the spoken word, spoken English, specifically, and that makes it tough for the survivors as it's easy to not get bitten, but more difficult to not talk to each other.  Third, the entire movie (except for the introductory scene when Mazzy is driving to work) takes place in the radio studio.  Nearly all of the action is communicated to the audience the same way it is communicated to the main characters - over the phone - and the tension is ratcheted up (waaaaaay up) not by overt violence and gore, but through Mazzy, Sydney and Laurel-Ann's reactions to what they are learning. 

I really liked this movie.  The actors did a great job of conveying the slowly building confusion, fear and fright as the situation accelerated.  The story was just different enough to be fully engrossing.  And, speaking of gross, there's just a little blood and gore to keep horror purists happy.  Lots and lots of fun, Pontypool is one of the better horror/thriller movies you've never heard of, I promise you.

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