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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pontypool, 2009 - Movie Review

Director: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

This review by Stephen Holden.

“Pontypool,” a small Canadian horror film that makes the most of its minuscule budget, is set almost entirely in the confines of a tiny radio station that operates from a church basement in rural Ontario. (The film’s title is also the name of the village that is home to the station, CLSY Radio.) Here, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie - Nite Owl 1 in Watchmen), a growling talk-show cowboy who suggests a bottom-drawer Don Imus, holds forth each morning while swigging heavily spiked coffee. By his side are his producer, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), with whom he continually bickers, and Laurel Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly), a resourceful technician who recently returned from serving in Afghanistan.

Directed by Bruce McDonald (“The Tracey Fragments”) from Tony Burgess’s screen adaptation of his novel “Pontypool Changes Everything,” the film captures the monotonous daily rituals of broadcasting from inside a studio that feels so sealed off from the outside world that nothing beyond the sound booth seems real. On this snowy Valentine’s Day morning, phoned-in reports of grisly events in the town seem as bogus as the Sunshine Chopper, a fictional traffic helicopter that is actually a truck parked on a hill.

The traffic reporter, Ken Loney (Rick Roberts), gives increasingly agitated eyewitness accounts of a mob surrounding the house of a local doctor, on top of another report of demented ice fishermen cannibalizing policemen. Because he is just a voice and never seen, they sound like an elaborate prank.

The first half of “Pontypool,” with its mixture of high-velocity banter and news flashes, suggests a deadpan spoof of “War of the Worlds,” Orson Welles’s notorious 1938 mock newscast describing a Martian invasion of New Jersey. But soon enough, the horror outside CLSY closes in on the station, and a zombielike mob arrives and begins banging on the windows.

“Pontypool” eventually makes a giant satiric leap into intellectual pretension, transforming William S. Burroughs’s notion that language is a virus into flesh-eating reality. The virus is not just any language, but English, the contagion spread through terms of endearment. To survive, Grant is forced to speak in broken French.

“Pontypool” barely develops a premise that has all kinds of implications about the mass media (talk radio in particular) and the degradation of language in a culture overrun with hyperbole, jargon, disinformation and contrived drama. But when one infected character is reduced to spouting gibberish as she suicidally hurls herself at the glass booth that has become a fortress against the zombie terror, the notion that we are all being driven mad by an incessant verbal deluge makes nasty comic sense.

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