Starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle
Directed by Bruce McDonald
3 stars (out of 5)
By Andrea Warner
Pontypool, the new horror/thriller/zombie mash-up from indie film auteur Bruce McDonald, is a remarkably intelligent, funny, and unsettling addition to the CanCon cannon.
For the viewer, it's total immersion from the opening credits: a simple but effective voiceover, eerily reminiscent of the great Vincent Price, menacingly foreshadowing the ripple effect of big events. The voice belongs to Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a disgraced DJ who's been exiled from the big city to small-town Pontypool, Ontario, where he broadcasts his neutered morning show from a church basement. Extra-grizzled and opinionated, Mazzy likes to stir up shit on the air, much to the consternation of straight-laced producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle, McHattie's real-life wife). In between Mazzy's rants, birthday announcements, and traffic updates, a frantic reporter calls in to say people are turning into zombie-like creatures.
McDonald chooses to build up the tension by having the majority of the horrors take place off-screen. Trapped in the basement with Mazzy and his crew, the audience is effectively held hostage as well. Unfortunately, screenwriter Tony Burgess (also the author of the book Pontypool Changes Everything, on which the movie is based) falls victim to the commonly held notion that audiences need the gift of a neat and clean solution tied up in a big ol' bow. As a result, Pontypool stumbles just short of the finish line, and rapidly devolves into sentimentality. Forgo the last 15 minutes, and Pontypool is the rarest of Canadian indie gems: quirky without being silly, intelligent but never elitist, and pretty damn scary.