Netflix Roulette: Pontypool

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past couple of days, I watched Pontypool at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately, things have kept popping up (all good thing (well, except for The Gallows)) that have prevented me from being able to put my thoughts down on paper… which, is a shame because this movie was pretty wonderful. I like to think that future-Adam found a way to interfere with past-Adam’s life in order to make it so that he/me wouldn’t have to sit with the taste of The Gallows lingering in his/my mouth for very long. It’s nice to be able to immediately wash that movie away by sitting and reflecting on a movie that may prove to be its polar opposite. There’s also another weird bit of kismet surrounding this movie. I was already planning on watching Pontypool this week since it was recommended to me by a reader… so, I was (pleasantly) surprised when it just happened to come up when I played another round of Netflix Roulette on Monday.

To summarize this movie in one or two sentences wouldn’t begin to do it justice… however, that is what I’ve been doing up to this point, so it’s only fair to give this movie similar treatment. Pontypool takes place over a single day in a small town in Ontario. More specifically, it takes place in a radio station, where a DJ, the station manager, and an assistant end up reporting on and ultimately fighting off a “zombie” apocalypse. I put the word zombie in quotations because these are not your typical zombies, nor is this your typical zombie film… and that’s what makes it so great. Just a couple of weeks ago, after watching The Horde, I declared the zombie sub-genre dead… well, much like the creatures these films revolve around, this sub-genre has clawed its way out of the grave and is somehow shambling along. To be fair, this movie actually came out a few years before The Horde, but it was so creative that it gives me hope (maybe even a little faith) that a filmmaker can still come along and do something original (and interesting) with zombies.

I’ve made it clear over the past several weeks that all that I really look for in a horror movie is that it’s trying something new, and that is Pontypool, in spades. In addition, it not only tries, it succeeds on a level that is truly rare. That being said, it is important for me to acknowledge that this movie may not be for all horror fans. It is not a fast-paced movie. In fact, it was apparently produced as both a film and a radio play, and it shows. Specifically, for all-intents-and-purposes this movie takes place in a single set (the radio station) and the majority of the action (at least for the first half of the movie) takes place off camera. We (the viewer… and the main characters in the film) become aware of the zombie apocalypse through callers to the station. This conjures memories of scenes from Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve always found these scenes extremely effective… there is something about the horrific and supernatural bleeding into the banality of everyday of life (like the news media) that elicits feelings of dread and anxiety. Therefore, by the halfway mark of this movie I was completely prepared to never actually see the zombies… and I was weirdly okay with this. Without showing anything the filmmakers (director Bruce McDonald and writer Tony Burgess (adapting the screenplay from his own novel)) create a sense of tension that is missing from most modern horror films. I kept wondering if this was going to be a reverse-War-of-the-Worlds thing. Don’t worry, though, the zombies eventually come, and there are some pretty cool (and effective) scenes with the monsters. Related to this is a scene where the DJ is reading the obituaries of the town folks killed by zombies on-air. While there is a major logic flaw/leap in this premise, how it is handled makes you overlook (or possibly even completely miss) this issue. Finally, I have to praise the film on the etiology of the disease that leads to the zombification of the town’s citizens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more creative idea in a zombie movie. To be fair, the idea is not completely flushed out… but, it makes sense. Why would three people in a radio station have a complete understanding of the disease? Instead, there are series of small hypotheses that are confirmed as the film chugs along.

I can only hope that I get one or two more movies of this caliber this summer… these are the films that motivate me to keep up this crazy experiment… thank you Pontypool.


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