Sunday, October 28, 2012

Horror Thoughts ‘12—Pontypool (2008) ***½

NR, 93 min.
Director: Bruce McDonald
Writer: Tony Burgess (also novel)
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak

“Pontypool” is just about the strangest horror movie I’ve ever seen. That’s not because it’s weird. I’ve seen plenty of incomprehensible horror movies. I mean this is about the most unique approach to the zombie subgenre I’ve ever seen.

The entire film takes place in a small town radio station. Character actor Stephen McHattie, whom you’ll recognize from playing various heavy government stooges from film and television, plays a radio shock jock not entirely pleased with his latest gig. It’s Valentine’s Day and the Canadian town of the setting is in a heavy snowstorm. A few minutes after his shift begins reports start coming in about groups of people rioting and killing others. None of these reports can be confirmed from any official source, but soon it becomes clear that they are not a hoax. Then it really starts to get interesting.

The recent surge in the popularity of the zombie horror subgenre has sent filmmakers into a frenzy trying to come up with explanations as to how the outbreak starts. “Pontypool” will be hard pressed to ever be topped as the most original. This zombie outbreak is caused by words. The English language is triggering some sort of reaction that turns people into mindless beasts who attack each other. How great that our hero should be a man who talks for a living?

Have you ever said a word so many times that it no longer sounds like a real word anymore? I loved how they used this notion to understand what was going on. It’s kind of difficult to get your head around exactly what is taking place in this small town. That’s part of the fun of the film. Unfortunately, it also makes for some pretty grey area as to how this whole language zombie thing works. I think that fogginess keeps “Pontypool” from becoming a truly classic zombie flick, but it’s a refreshing break from the norm.

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