There was a time (apparently at least partly due to tax shelter laws) when Canada produced quite a few horror films, including a fair number of cult classics. Pontypool is a throwback to this tradition, a smart, effective, low-budget horror film from the Great White North. Pontypool also offers the first fresh take on the zombie film that’s come out in a while.
Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie, The Ultimate Warrior) is a struggling radio DJ who’s big mouth has landed him in at a tiny station in Pontypool, Ontario. On the way into work one morning, he has a strange encounter on the highway, and his day gets stranger as he soon finds himself the sole source of information as the town goes crazy and people begin babbling and eating one another. Joining him at the station are his producer, divorced mom Sidney Blair (Lisa Houle) and his engineer, Afghan war vet Laurel Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly). Their main source of information that’s happening outside is the station’s “Eye in the Sky” reporter (actually he’s in a car on one of the hills overlooking town) Ken Loney (Rick Roberts). Can they unravel the mystery of what’s going on before it’s too late?
Pontypool makes effective use of its radio broadcasts, tapping into both the authority of news reports and the urgency that only hearing, but not seeing, what is happening can give us. It’s also central to the film’s twist on the zombie film, which revolves around language, both in spreading the “virus” and in avoiding the zombies. The scenes where Mazzy and the others must remain silent are excellent, and recall the Blind Dead films. The film, in fact, maintains excellent tension throughout, and is, in equal turns, funny, spooky, and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed the use of Anglo and Francophone tensions and the character of Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak, Head Office), who we’re never sure of how he’s figured out what he’s figured out, and if he’s infected or not. Even though the last act doesn’t quite bring it all together in a satisfying manner (the end credit’s final scene is not only unnecessary, but stupid) Director Bruce McDonald and writer Tony Burgess deliver a must see horror film.