Directed By Bruce McDonald
Starring – Stephen McHattie,Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly
IT MIGHT be hard to sell Bruce McDonald’s quirky 2008 indie horror feature, Pontypool, certificate 15 to hardened horror fanatics. A psychological thriller that mostly takes place within a small Canadian radio station as those inside, struggle to comprehend with a virus spreading through their local town, that is seemingly spread audibly.
But in my opinion this fantastic little horror, is worth every bit the cult movie status it has gained. It’s clever and inventive within the tried and tested formulas with the horror genre. But it’s also every bit an homage to the some of the classic horror movies of the 1980’s .In particular the work of horror legend, John Carpenter.
Set in the small Ontario town of Pontypool in Canada, the film unfolds within the radio station, on a seemingly normal morning show, all hell seems to break out as reports begin to trickle in, that local people are beginning to act strangely and are becoming increasingly violent.
Stephen McHattie, plays DJ Grant Mazzy, who like a true professional, continues broadcasting on the airwaves. He is supported by his producer, Sydney Briar, played by Lisa Houle and his young runner, Laurel-Ann, played by Georgina Reilly.
McHattie, is wonderful in this film as the silver tongued disc jockey, his gravelly voice perfectly suits the role. He is a strong central protagonist for the feature, believable as events unfold. At first his character wants to use the unfolding situation for his own personal gain, hoping his broadcast could lead to his big break. But as events begin to escalate, Mazzy begins to fear for his own safety.
It becomes clear that the virus is spread by word of mouth, namely the use of the English language. It’s a clever concept, considering how the language has modified and incorporated various other languages over thousands of years. Adapting various words together, and altering their meaning. In one scene Mazzy and Sydney begin to speak in French, hoping that it will prevent them from becoming infected.
Sound is such an important part of this film, from the bizarre opening sequence in which McHattie’s character encounters a woman in distress on his way to the studio to a truly bizarre phone call into the studio. Ken Loney, the station’s eye in the sky, who actually sits in his car, on top of a hill playing helicopter noises, encounters a group of infected locals. Discovering that one is injured, Ken investigates on air. The injured man begins to make childlike noises that are deeply disturbing.
But the standout sequence of the feature involves Laurel-Ann. Who falls foul to the virus and begins to act increasingly strangely around the studio, including imitating the sound of a boiling kettle. A scene the actress herself didn’t think would be taken seriously, but the onscreen result is simply fantastic.
Pontypool might not be perfect, or everyone’s cup of tea. In particular the seemingly downbeat ending might leave some viewers underwhelmed. Some struggles might never buy into the film’s central premise. But personally, I think McDonald’s feature is a clever and inventive little horror feature.
It plays with your mind, leaving much to viewers own imagination, whilst creating a claustrophobic level of tension as events play out. Based on a series of books, written by Tony Burgess, there has been a lot of speculation about a possible sequel and I really hope they do, fingers crossed.
Review By William McClean