Pontypool

Graffiti in Pontypool

 

“Mrs. French’s fish is missing. The signs are posted all over Fishpants. Have you seen Honey? We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the fish. Nobody, until last Thursday morning when Ms. Collette Piscine swerved her car, to miss Honey the fish, as she drove across a bridge. Well, this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure, and even has its own fancy name: Pont de Poisson. Now, Collette: that sounds like culotte, or ‘short pants’ in French. And Piscine means ‘fish’: Fish Pants. Pont sounds like pant.  Poisson also means ‘fish’ in French so, Collette Piscine (or  ‘fish pants’) drives over the Pont de Poisson (the ‘fish pants’, if you will) to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s fish, that has been missing in Fishpants.

Fish pants.

Fish pants.

Fishpants.

Pont de Poisson.

What does it mean? It means that you should read the rest of this review.”

 

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), is a bitter middle-aged radio shock jock, who has been ejected from the air waves of the big city.  Sulking and resentful, he halfheartedly tries to bring his brand of excitement to  CLSY, which broadcasts from a church basement in the small town of Pontypool.  Mazzy is at loggerheads with the station manger/producer over the content. To get a bead on what sort guy we are dealing with here, well, imagine what Don Imus would be like if Imus had a soul instead of an overinflated ego.  Yeah, he even wears a ridiculous Imus-ish cowboy hat.  Still, it could be worse.  They could have made Mazzy a Howard Stern-ish character.

We have a small town in the throws of a blizzard.  A big city fish in a tiny ponty pool.   Oh, and yes, there is also among the school closings, traffic news, and the weather report– zombies!  Let’s see Imus deal with that!

Hmm . . . a cranky middle-aged shock jock in a radio station for the zombie apocalypse?  Improbably,  two movies came out roughly at the same time opening with just that premise, Pontypool and Dead Air.   Naturally, being that they both start with a similar premise, you might think that Pontypool and Dead Air are alike.   They share not only the same basic opening premise, but both make use of infected zombies and both dip into politics.  Once you peel off the surface skin, surprisingly you get two vastly divergent films.

The key thing about Pontypool is how the virus is spread and what is implied by that method of transmission.  The devil is very definitely in this little detail, changing everything, taking Pontypool  from being just a fun zombie movie to art.  Good art has a message.  Great art is more open and subtle, allowing room for the audience to bring something to it.  I think that Pontypool falls into the later category.

I saw Pontypool as an allegory for the relationship between mass communication and group think– how the meaning of language can be changed to become meaningless– and the resulting violence that comes from that loss.  Writer Tony Burgess may have had something completely different in mind.  I dunno.  My point is that you and I could both see the movie and both of us come to different and possibly equally valid conclusions and have a grand old time hashing it out over a couple of pints.  Confused?  You won’t be once you see it.  I just don’t want to give away any spoilers.

Great art, yes?  But how is Pontypool as a zombie kill-fest? Ah! Well, at the more visceral popcorn crunching level we again find Pontypool is also a winner.  After introducing our main characters, we begin the climb up the mountain to full-blown zombie mayhem.   Yeah! Don’t expect Mazzy to suddenly change from an egotistical middle-aged radio host into an egotistical middle-aged monster slayer in the Bruce Campbell mode.  Pontypool isn’t that sort of movie.

The zombies in Pontypool are of the infected kind, though they are not super-charged like those in 28 Day Later.   The zombie effects are subtle, with the infected usually having blood around their mouths and running down their chins and on their hands from doing violence to others.  The thing is that for the most part we don’t see them; the horror being built from people calling into the radio station and vividly reporting what is going on in town  The suspense is built with sound, much like Jaws. You hear doom approaching before it reveals itself.

The story is entertaining and strange.  The dialogue is well written, drawing you into the characters.  As the zombie crisis progresses throughout the movie the characters begin to step out of their initial roles, especially Mazzy, who drops the prima donna  dirtbag talk radio star act once it becomes apparent that the situation has become dire.  My only raised eyebrow comes when Professor Exposition manages to elude the zombie horde to pass out frothy mugs of delicious clue to the radio station crew and the movie audience.  I found that somewhat contrived, but forgivable since there really was no other way economically get the plot points across without cutting into our zombie time or messing up the building tension.

The acting is very good, especially Steven McHattie, who in addition to turning in a fine performance,  has a natural voice for talk radio, making the character all the more believable.

Director Bruce McDonald had a lot of material with which to work; a top notch story, good actors, good dialogue for those actors and just enough of a budget to bring it off.  So how did he do?  He managed to take all these good ingredients and make an intelligent, taut zombie movie that I imagine people will be watching and talking about for years to come.

Starring:
Steven McHattie
Lisa Houle
Rick Roberts
Georgina Reilly
Screenplay:
Tony Burgess

Director:
Bruce McDonald

Four out of five Vincents

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