Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #196
Number of Views: Two (Once audio only)
Release Date: March 6, 2009
Sub Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Bruce McDonald
Producers: Jeffrey Coghlan, Ambrose Roche
Screenplay: Tony Burgess
Story: Tony Burgess
Special Effects: Geoff Hill
Cinematography: Miroslaw Baszak
Score: Claude Foisy
Editing: Jeremiah Munce
Studios: Ponty Up Pictures, Shadow Shows
Distributor: Maple Pictures
Stars: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts, Boyd Banks, Tony Burgess, Rachel Burns
Suggested Audio Candy
Pontypool Intro (Francais)
Oh boy. Where to start? Okay Grueheads it is rare that Keeper is at a loss for words but, right now, I am frantically attempting to descramble my brain. You see, I just watched Pontypool for the first and second time and, as anybody already familiar with Bruce McDonald’s total head-slam will attest, it’s a whole barrel of messed up. I can honestly say that I have never seen a film quite like it and I’ve watched a lot of movies in my time I can assure you.
Wrongly labeled as a zombie horror flick, Pontypool couldn’t be further removed from the embarrassing glut of Z-movies gushing into the marketplace on a bi-weekly basis. There is little in the way of flesh-eating and the film is set almost entirely within a singular location. It’s intention is to pen you in like its three key protagonists and slowly apply pressure until which time as you’re left gasping for air. Not for everyone, its message may be lost on many but for those not afraid having their preconceptions challenged at every turn, I implore you to dive on in.
It follows cantankerous talk radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and his skeleton crew of producer Sydney (Lisa Boule) and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) and plays out in real-time as their regular broadcast is interrupted by reports of a macabre sequence of events unfurling around their beloved Pontypool, less than 5km from their location. What begins as an opportunity for an exclusive scoop swiftly transmogrifies into a perplexing puzzle whereby the radio jock learns more of the sickness which is driving everyday normal folk to slaughter their nearest and dearest.
From the very first sound-byte, Pontypool has you right by the short and curlies and McHattie’s gargantuan performance plays a rather hefty role in keeping you invested. It really is his show and he truly has a voice for radio. In addition his fellow cast members play their part with über efficiency but, make no mistake, this is his movie. The actor is more than up to the challenge and his soothing gruff tones lull us into false sense of security while the contagion spreads because of those same vocals. To give any more away would be to rob y’all of one of the most unique experiences in post-millennia horror cinema so I’ll remain hushed. This film taught me many things and one is that sometimes words just make things worse.
It comprises of three distinctive acts. The first is dialogue-heavy, the middle segment is almost devoid of interaction and the final act, well let’s just say, by that point you’ll no doubt have contracted some of the madness unraveling before you as it wriggles under your skin like few other features can. If you struggle to make sense of what is transpiring at that juncture then don’t adjust your TV sets, try not to be alarmed and try to refrain from using any terms of endearment. In some nonsensical way it’ll make sense by the end, believe me.
Grue couldn’t be less of a necessity for a film such as Pontypool. It focuses on creating an ominous atmosphere and discombobulating its addressee, rather than spraying the sauce with any abandon and this is entirely justified. Part of the reason this is such an assured choice on McDonald’s part is this: simultaneously to this tantalizing indie gem getting made it was also being adapted into a radio play. Adapted from Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything into a screenplay by Burgess himself, it draws its inspiration from Orson Welles’ infamous broadcast The War of the Worlds and evokes a similar level of panic and unease.
The script, which was astonishingly knocked up in two days, provides plentiful vocal acrobatics for McHattie to wrap his tongue around and a wicked streak of black comedy runs right through its core. Sometimes, in a particularly fucked up set of circumstances, the best thing to do is to laugh and Burgess, McDonald and most of all McHattie understand this brilliantly. There are laugh out loud moments littered throughout although you may find yourself trying to keep the noise to a minimum. Speaking of which, gargantuan kudos to Claude Foisy whose subtly throbbing underlying score matches the tone exquisitely, sucking every last breath from our lung baskets.
There really aren’t many films in the same stratosphere as Pontypool. In an industry where original concepts are at a premium, McDonald’s film has a real doozy to brag about. It isn’t for everyone. Indeed as many people will hate is as love it but, should you possess a lucid imagination and allow your ears to take leading duties for 95 minutes, you will be vastly rewarded. I close with this; watch it twice. The second time however, do it without visual and prepare to be terrified to a whole new degree. And remember – kill is kiss.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: For a film which prefers to horrify your ears rather than eyes, Pontypool does have moments of bloody carnage. They are few and not pronounced but are sickeningly realistic and leave their mark believe you me.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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