Director – Bruce McDonald
Cast – Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts, Daniel Fathers
Release Year – 2008
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Pontypool is a film that I first heard of through Fright Master of UHM a few years back. I was not overly interested in the film at first(it seemed boring), but its plot soon warmed up to me due to its interesting infected premise and lead me to give this film a watch, and enjoy its favorable results. This is definitely one of the more original horror films that I have seen in recent time, which in itself is an understatement once you see just how original this flick is.
Talk radio personality Grant Mazzy(Stephen McHattie; The Fountain, A History of Violence) arrives at his solemn bunker to once again deliver local news and strike conversation with the neighboring townsfolk as he does every morning, but today will be unlike any other. Soon after he takes to the airwaves his station begins to receive strange calls from the locals, which are furthered by the highly distressed calls coming from his correspondents out on the field. It soon becomes apparent that there is an epidemic of some sort going on outside the station walls, and as Grant does what he can to decipher the events going on and seek aid from outsiders, he unknowingly worsens the situation, a situation now making its way into his station.
I give writer Tony Burgess for coming up with an original idea that I had never before seen used in the infected sub-genre, nor the horror genre either. Based on his very own novel, “Pontypool Changes Everything”, we really are given a change from the usual infected antics that may have come resulting from the film’s low $1.5 million budget, but most likely came from ingenuity itself. The idea of the film following a radio host trying to deal with mass hysteria going on outside his/her walls was not one I had not seen before(John Carpenter’s The Fog did it), but nonetheless I loved the concept given it kept us in the dark just as much as Grant was in the dark over what was going on. The entire film takes place in the radio station, and we are given a first-hand look on what it would be like to be exposed to such chaos and have no way to leave and make sure that what is apparently “going on” outside is actually “going on”. At first it seems someone is playing a joke on the station, but when the correspondents begin to call in with harrowing tales of the events going on around them the creepiness enters the film in heavy doses, especially the scene involving the “crying baby”. For a film to use one location and last a strong 96 minutes it must consist of engaging material, and that is exactly what writer Tony Burgess provided me with. The developments are well-paced, and eventually lead up to what we are lead to believe is the culprit behind the chaos…words. Words? Yes, that is right…words. It sounds silly, and in a way it is, but considering I have never seen an infected horror film in which words are what kicks off and spreads the infection I must say that it is a clever idea, whether you like it or not. I will not go into supreme detail over this because I have already ruined part of the fun by telling you about this(I went into the film “blind”), but I had to give you an idea of the creativity behind the experience.
Director Bruce McDonald did well with this film, and made the most of what he could with such a low-budget. As I mentioned earlier, the film takes place in only one setting, and McDonald’s sets ensured the grasping of my attention with their solemn feel thanks to low-lighting and an old worn look to them. His atmosphere is great throughout the film, and it only gets better as the runtime grows and more panic and chaos surround the radio station. For and infected film we don’t get a ton of infected action, and most of the gruesome events that occur are given to us via second-hand delivery from the correspondents out in the field. The few scenes that we do get with the infected actually visible to the viewer are positive and deliver a few good spooks as well, but don’t go into this film expecting crazy carnage like 28 Days Later.
Overall, Pontypool is a truly original film that gives us an interesting take on the infected sub-genre and delivers a fun and enjoyable horror experience that does much with what little the filmmakers had to work with. Perfect atmosphere and good writing /direction allow this film to envelop the viewer from the get-go, and we are given good thrills and chills in both visible and non-visible form, making Pontypool one of the best lesser-known horror films from last decade.