Written and adapted for the screen by Tony Burgess and directed by Bruce McDonald the 2008 film Pontypool feels like a demented Monty Python sketch on acid. It is clever, witty, and funny. It is also a brilliant exercise in suspense and horror.
The film promises so much in the beginning and continues to make these promises right up to the last quarter of the film. Then (a little like the 2010 film Insidious) it discards its brilliant beginning and shows us the ‘monster.’
Considering that the film was made in Canada by Canadians it’s no real surprise that the ‘big bad’ of the film turns out to be the English language. Without sounding too racist (I hope) it makes a sort of ironic sense coming from a country that has two national languages. One of which is French.
French is still touted as the ‘sophisticated’ language (mainly by the French) and the French are still slightly pissed that it is no longer considered the ‘international’ language that it once was. English has taken over as the ‘international’ language, which is slightly surprising considering it is seen to be harder to learn that the Chinese Mandarin language.
Still language plot points aside, the film is a good one. We join DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on his drive to work. Work is a small suburban radio station that he’s just started at. Grant was a ‘Shock-Jock’ at his last job and it got him fired. Working for Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) the radio’s producer and manager is a major ‘drop’ in his status. The only other person in the radio station is Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) who is the station’s technician, switchboard operator and all around chief cook and bottle washer. She also is a big fan of Grant’s.
That station producer Sydney doesn’t like Grant is obvious from the moment she walks into the station. Grant has little love to give in return as he drinks his scotch and coffee while presenting his show. While talking to their ‘eye in the sky’ traffic reporter, who in reality is not in the sky at all but is parked on a hill in his car, they are told that a ‘mob’ of people have surrounded a Dr’s office in the town.
This same mob, apparently blows up and the survivors start moving towards the radio station. A transmission in French breaks into the radio stations live broadcast. Laurel-Ann translates it and the message is that they should stop talking in English and to not use ‘terms of Endearment’ such as honey or sweetheart.
At this point in the film, we can only hear what Grant, Sydney and Laurel-Ann hear from the various ‘eye in the sky’ reports and phone calls into the station. We can hear through the calls, the sounds of everything that is going on around the caller. It makes for a suspenseful ride.
Steven McHattie really sells Grant Mazzy. His reactions, rants and realisations are brilliant. It is his presence that makes the film feel all too real.
If the film had continued in the vein that it had started, it could have quickly become a classic horror film. Unfortunately the creators decided to ‘show’ the infected crowds and bring the violence and gore into the radio station. It doesn’t harm the film when they do this, but it does rob it of it’s brilliant suspense and mounting horror.
Overall, I loved the film. And I might be the only one who noticed this, but towards the very end of the film when Grant and Sydney are playing their word association game in an attempt to “save the world” isn’t that a direct reference to the 1974 film Rhinoceros? A film that could be Pontypool’s spiritual twin?
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