The Halloween Horror challenge continues with one of the best horror movies in a long time. Naturally most people haven't seen it.
D. Bruce McDonald
Canadian indie filmmaker Bruce McDonald returns with a weird little outing where he does the unthinkable: he's made a zombie movie that basically has no zombies. He's taken Romero's concept that Zombie films are basically political discourse and pushed that all the way to the breaking point. A lot of horror fans will hate this movie. Many more will argue it is not a horror film at all. And those people may be right to a degree. I mean, it deals with a zombie take over, a zombie plague, and the survivors holed up in one small place trying to figure the whole mess out - it's a classic zombie movie set up. But what McDonald has done is so far out in left field that it has to be taken on its own terms. Based on a play by Tony Burgess (who also wrote the script), this is essentially a three character chamber piece that explores the use of language in society. It takes the old William Burroughs quote "language is a virus" and spins it into a whole new level.
PONTYPOOL deals with a shock jock radio host named Grant Mazzy (played by the always welcome Stephen McHattie) who's recently been shipped from the big city to the small town of Pontypool. The movie never says exactly why, but you get the feeling his rebellious nature and off the cuff, on-air rantings have gotten him in trouble in the past. His producer Sydnie Blair (Lisa Houle) takes a negative rub to him right away, but also respects his ability to engage the listeners. Their ultra cute engineer Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) is a town hero because she was in Afghanistan for several tours. They are a mismatched group trying to do a morning show together. It's clear that Laurel Ann has a little bit of a crush on Grant (or maybe she's a bit star struck) and that Sydnie is having a lot of trouble reigning him in. Then suddenly their eye in the sky reporter (who is not really in the sky at all, but roving around in a car) sees a riot going on outside a local doctor's office. A mob of around a hundred is attacking the place, with people being trampled and beaten to death. The station goes live with it and the reports from eye witnesses keep pouring in, with some witnesses making no sense, just repeating themselves over and over.
They get a transmission that breaks into their signal in French, which they translate, that tells them with no terms of endearment to speak only in French and to NOT translate the message. But, of course, it's too late. With each successive call they get, and each report from the "eye in the sky," it becomes clear that there's a zombie plague going on, that people are being attacked and torn apart and possibly eaten. The radio station becomes the hub of information as they try to stay on the air, to keep people calm and informed, and to do what they can to keep information flowing freely. Eventually, the doctor that originally was being attacked makes his way to them and explains to a degree what's going on: the virus is being carried through sound; words. specifically. Certain words, when cognitively understood, are triggering off this reaction in people. So anyone could be saying these words at this point, and anyone listening to them could be infected because of it. So now the problem is internal, because the few people inside the station could be infected too.
There are no flashes or cuts to the outside world in this movie. All of it is inferred through the use of sound and phone calls, pretty much how a play would be done since its confined to a few select sets. There are only a few zombies in the last fifteen minutes as they begin to find their way into the station or other people become infected, and actually the tension completely builds from what we do NOT see in the movie. In a lot of ways this is the antithesis of what cinema is, because it's all about what is NOT on screen at any given moment. In that way it should NOT work at all. But it does. It works extremely well, because ultimately the movie's not about zombies at all, but about language and the barriers we bring with it - the dangers that language and the misuse of it can cause. About how words that are said can be understood or misunderstood to the point that entire huge catastrophic events can occur because of it. And ultimately about how we can take hurtful, degrading and deadly meanings and with effort change them to save ourselves if we try hard enough. The movie is a metaphor on how language is life, or the locomotive that drives it, connecting all the other boxcars together.
Reviews © Andy Copp