Studio/Distributor: IFC Midnight/Maple Pictures/Crescent Road Pictures
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrank Alianak, Rick Roberts, Daniel Fathers, Beatriz Yuste, Tony Burgess, Boyd Banks, Hannah Fleming, Rachel Burns, Laura Nordin, Diane Gordon, Daniel Park, Yvonne Moore, Raffaele Carniato
Director: Bruce McDonald
Writer: Tony Burgess (adapted from his novel of the same name)
Synopsis: Big city radio jockey Grant Mazzy was from his old radio job and has been relegated to hosting an early A.M. radio show in the small Ontario town of Pontypool. On this particular morning, Grant and his staffers, station manager Sydney Blair & technical assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond, finds themselves facing a virus that is rapidly spreading and causing its victims to speaking incoherently and committing unspeakable, gruesome acts. Now a solution must be found before things take a turn for the severely worse.
The Long of It: Ever since my brother & sister introduced me to horror movies, I’ve been a big fan of the genre. Whether it was great or straight-up mediocre, gory or spooky, there’s something about horror that leaves me wanting more. Then, I noticed that there was a string of horror movies that came from many places all over the word: the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia, Asia, Canada. Most of Canada’s horror films came from cutting edge visionaries like David Cronenberg, who always made it a mission to ensure that the film you were watching was not your run-of-the-mill horror film. Early films like “Shivers”, “Rabid”, “The Brood” and his later primary essentials made sure that the mission was accomplished. In modern times, horror movies from Canada can be hit or miss (a hit like “Insidious” or a miss like “Devil Seed”). The Canuck horror movie I’m reviewing here is the former. “Pontypool” is the prime example how it be classified as a zombie movie without falling into the same old trappings that we have seen over and over and over and over……
Adapted from the novel by Tony Burgess (who wrote the screenplay) which was first heard as a radio play, the movie takes place in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, where former shock jock Grant Mazzy (McHattie, who’s a recognizable actor in both the U.S. & Canada) is the host of a early morning radio show. He works there with technical assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond (Reilly, who’s known to certain American audiences for her role on “The L.A. Complex”) and station manager Sydney Blair (Houle), who just can’t deal with Grant’s on-air cavalier persona. The plot kicks off with a eye-in-the-sky report that turns sinister when there are reports of a riot in front of a doctor’s office, describing the scene of chaos & carnage, resulting in numerous deaths. They soon discover a transmission in garbled French. The transmission is an instruction to let people know to stay indoors, not to use terms of endearment (like “love”, “care” etc.), phrases that conflict and the English language. The town is declared to be under quarantine under then. Grant’s attempt to leave the studio are thwarted by a mob of people on the attack and Grant & Sydney are locked inside, just as Laurel-Ann begins to behave erratically. Soon after, Dr. Mendez enters the studio and joins Grant & Sydney in the soundproof booth. Mendez shares one possible theory as to why everyone’s acting the way they are: a virus has made its way into human language, infecting certain words and only certain words can infect certain people. Now, in a race against time, inside one location, Grant & Sydney must find a way to avoid being infected with the virus while trying to stop it from spreading beyond Pontypool.
The Short of It: “Pontypool” may seem like a slow burner for those who were raised on kinetic action-based horror films (with Lakeshore Entertainment being the usual suspects when it comes to those types) but once it starts and keeps going, you’re invested in the story and tone and pace but most importantly, the film is rested on the shoulder of its lead actor, Stephen McHattie. With a career as a supporting player that spans 4 decades, McHattie isn’t resting on his laurels when it comes to his performance as Grant Mazzy. He brings a quality to the performance that goes beyond your typical horror acting performance. Lisa Houle providing solid support as the station manager who also gives Grant a chance to use common sense, before and after the virus hits. Bruce McDonald directs with a sensible balance of subtlety and energetic suspense and fleshes out Burgess’ script/source material with such brilliance that no other recent horror adaptation, no matter how hard they try, can succeed at doing. In a sea of multiple zombie movies that uses the ‘zombie movie playbook’ step-by-step, one too many times, “Pontypool” is the one-of-a-kind, fresh take that’s tense, gripping and original. **** (4 out of 5 stars)