Pontypool (2008)

Pontypool is original. It is rare a reviewer gets to utter those words in recent years, especially within the remake-crowded cliché-stack that is the horror genre, but Pontypool can boast this. It is smart, unique, tense, nasty and genuinely compelling. Only a saggy and tenuous finale lets it down, but Pontypool still comes out on top as an excellent, tight little horror piece. Quality stuff.

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is the titular morning broadcaster on CLSY radio, a church basement radio station sitting on the edge of Pontypool, Ontario. With aspirations of greatness, Mazzy finds himself frustrated with speaking about the school bus reports and talking to his “eye in the sky” newscaster, who actually sits in a car playing helicopter sound effects. It’s small town boredom and he’s immensely frustrated with his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) who refuses to let him speak his mind. With a giant dose of “be careful what you wish for” Mazzy receives some disturbing reports from the residents of Pontypool, garbled messages about people eating each other, and then very worryingly calls from listeners who seem to have lost their minds entirely. The situation spirals horribly out of control, and those stuck in the station realise that whatever is turning the people of Pontypool into zombies might not be transmitted by bite, but by something much more dangerous…

Like a combination of The Crazies, Night of the Living Dead and a really warped radio play, Pontypool is a creepy, disturbing horror that crawls under the skin right from the beginning and injects you with a sense of dread throughout. Considering this is writer Tony Burgess’s first film, he may be one to watch in the future.

For Pontypool to be truly convincing, however, it has to have a solid, believable cast, and with Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly as the three radio workers stuck in the basement, director Bruce McDonald has struck gold. McHattie is pitch-perfect as DJ Grant Mazzy. Normally cast as a psychopath (see A History of Violence, Shoot ‘em Up & Summers Moon for his nastiest turns), McHattie proves himself to be a sympathetic, greatly likeable man with a huge range of talent. Watching his cocky, cheeky arrogance slowly crumble as he listens to the world outside gradually going to hell is a shocking, brilliant thing to behold. Likewise Houle and Reilly bounce off each other and McHattie perfectly, and as the film tips towards the finale, they prove themselves to be as adept as McHattie in portraying likeable, realistic characters who you really really don’t want to go insane.

There is also some excellent voice work from those calling into the station, especially from Rick Roberts, CSLY’s “eye in the sky” reporter Ken, who’s first hand view of the escalating insanity is both compelling and utterly horrible, showing that through voice-work alone you can create tension, horror and an enormous sense of dread.

Hrant Alianak (who plays a doctor in nearly everything he’s cast in) is Doctor Mendez, the only other notable character, and it’s his appearance that signals the decline of the film’s pace and sense. Like many horror films, when the reveal is eventually made the fear and tension start to unravel, resulting in a slightly confusing whirlpool of disappointment that takes you into the realm of believability-stretching silliness. There are many questions left unanswered in Pontypool, although this is not vastly detrimental to the film, as it probably couldn’t go anywhere else, but the change of pace and realism-breaking is slightly uncomfortable.

Pontypool is a great film. It is unique, tense, disturbing, intriguing and very well acted. The ending lets it down slightly, but the majority of the film is compelling and intelligently made. Watch it for McHattie, watch it for its originality, watch it for the creepy escalation of fear.

Quite simply, watch Pontypool.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

One Comment on “Pontypool”

  1. admin says:

    I’m interested to see where they go with the sequel…..I only hope McHattie is in it, without him this wouldn’t have been nearly as good!

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