I’ve made no secret of my frustration with the zombie genre & the lack of originality in it & horror in general. Regardless I will watch anything with the horror tag in the vague hope that I may be surprised & if this surprise turns out to be a zombie movie then even better.
Pontypool is set in the small town of…you guessed it, Pontypool in Ontario, Canada. It’s a cold winter & there is a hell of a storm blowing as local news station DJ Grant Mazzy heads into work. It’s dark out & as he stops at a set of traffic lights a woman visibly distressed starts banging on his window, he tries to talk to her before she disappears into the dark.
At the local radio station Grant tires to fill the boredom of reporting on school-runs & traffic issues with anything that might perk the stories up to the annoyance of his boss, Sydney & the amusement of helping hand, Laurel-Ann. Sydney insists he tones it down & brings him down to earth by showing how small-time the radio station is…their ‘man in the sky’ reporter is actually just a man in a van on a hill with sound effects.
However as the day goes on reports begin to come in that something isn’t quite right out there. Grant receives panicked calls form residents talking about large crowds gathering chanting the same thing. Grant, Sydney & Laurel-Ann try to make sense of what is coming in while continuing to report the facts. As the problems worsen outside (riots, people attacking each other) the realisation that an infection is spreading throughout the town.
Most of the movie takes place inside the radio station studio & inside the sound proof room. We don’t really get to see the effect of the infection on a grand scale but we do get to hear it. This is one of the movies strengths…the acting from the trio inside the studio to the callers-in. The panic in their voices & confusion translates really well & has a clear effect on Grant who just can’t accept such a thing can be happening.
One of the standout scenes is when the ‘man in the sky’ Ken ends up in a local silo hiding for his life. He stays on the phone & describes in minute detail exactly what he can see & it is the first time we really get an understanding on what is going on .The same goes for Grant & company & it is pretty cool to be sharing in the same experience as them.
As the situation worsens the group are joined by a doctor who has managed to work out how the virus is spreading & how they can avoid becoming infected.
As I said above you don’t get to see the infection on a wide scale but we do get to see it locally as Laurel-Ann succumbs to it. As Grant, Sydney & the doctor hide inside the sound-proof barrier she repeatedly throws herself against the glass. It lasts for ages & the more blood that splatters & the more damage she does to herself the more the sanity of the trio inside slips. It is possibly the scariest scene in the entire movie & that it happens to a character that has been so likeable makes it so much worse.
So how does it spread? Well this is where Pontypool differentiates itself from the zombie crowd. You see the infection isn’t spread by bites or blood nor is it airborne. No, this virus spreads by word of mouth. The English language…certain words that when understood…confused? Yeah, I was as well, I will explain.
The virus is in the English language & when the infected words are spoken & understood it takes hold. The symptoms begin with the person repeating the same word over & over before they get stuck on 1 word & then start repeating everything they hear & finally….they turn violent. The only way to combat it is to talk in a different language or to repeat phrases that make no sense.
It’s a confusing concept to get your head around but can’t be faulted on originality. I personally found the concept really confusing to understand at first & it had an effect on my feelings towards the movie in the end.
As the radio station comes under siege Grant & Sydney do everything they can to stay alive & not getting infected (speaking French) before realising that that they can cure the infected by changing the meaning of words. This works when Sydney begins to show symptoms & Grant convinces her that kill no longer means what it does but now means kiss. “Kill is kiss” becomes the mantra that they try to spread across the airwaves even with the army instructing them not too.
The film ends with a countdown from the army implying they bombed the town but watch past the credits to sea very confusing hint for potential sequel.
There is some brilliant acting on show & for a low-budget movie you won’t really notice even if you don’t get to see much signs of infection on a grander scale. The phone-in conversations & the infection of Laurel-Ann are stand-out moments & really up the stakes in the zombie genre but in an attempt to be original the movie spends the latter half trying to explain how its infection works. It is almost like they know it’s not easy to understand & really want to make sure you do.