I have a shortened version of this review/recommendation on Cinedelphia’s website, along with some great recommendations from other writers, bloggers and generally cool people from the Philly area. But after sending off my thoughts, I realized I had more to say on Pontypool.
So here’s my expanded/original review in its entirety:
In Pontypool, words really can kill.
In a brilliantly original take on the zombie genre, director Bruce McDonald crafts a story where words are the virus. It cleverly elevates the film from just another rehash to something unique and unsettling. In the Canadian town of Pontypool, radio DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), his producer and techie are trapped in the station during a snowstorm. While inside, they slowly discover that a virus has infected the town, transforming normal people into violent cannibals. The trio have to try and stay safe, but what can you do when you discover your own language is the enemy?
The film plays out almost entirely inside the small radio station, with most of the serious action happening in the claustrophobic recording booth. We have to imagine the events unfolding outside solely through what we hear reported to Grant. Eventually, it becomes more of a siege movie, but this change in tone works well – the shift seems natural and leads nicely up to the uncompromising ending.
The evolution of the virus is very creepy. It plays off the idea that a word can be catching to devastating effect. Repetition of infected words grow to an outburst of violent acts, ending with a bloody bang. Listen, just because this thing is cerebral doesn’t mean there aren’t a few moments for the gorehound. That being said, this movie isn’t just a body count. The atmosphere is one of creeping dread, fear of the unknown and being trapped inside while the world goes to pieces.
It’s the apocalypse, one word at a time.
While this film boasts a clever concept and threatening atmosphere, it wouldn’t be half as cool without the talents of Stephen McHattie. Since much of the film involves watching Grant talk in extreme close-up, choosing the wrong actor could have destroyed the movie. But McHattie, armed with razor-sharp delivery and a craggy, expressive face, delivers a nuanced performance. He takes Grant from a bitter, displaced shock-radio host to a man trying to save the world. Either way, you can’t take your eyes off of him. He shines. Even if the rest of the film were terrible (it’s not), it would be worth watching just for him.
If you think you’ve seen every take on the zombie film, you need to check out Pontypool. In a time of carbon copies, it’s fiercely original. That alone makes it special.