Though the word-of-mouth (pun intended/unintended) has made its rounds thoroughly on Pontypool, we thought it worth revisiting for our love of originality.
In some cases, originality is doomed from the beginning. The creator does not have the refined talent or the budget to properly convey a creative and original idea. If there were a scale for these few thrown stones, Pontypool would certainly fall on the side of success rather than failure. It takes the zombie concept, even the concept of horror itself, and twists it into a mold that was broken before the credits roll.
It is unfortunate that the structure of the film doesn't hold up throughout. Surely part of this destructive plotting is purposeful. It fits with the flow of the verbally-viral chaos that gradually ensues during the film's runtime. But, the chaos balances the line between threatening and awkward, and perhaps too often falls on the side of awkward.
Our film follows Grant Mazzy, a radio talk show host and shock jock, as he adjusts to his post-forced retirement from a high-volume station to a small town locale in the middle of Canada. As he presses small-time problems into symptoms of global issues, it slowly becomes clear that there is a gradually swelling problem in Pontypool and it's getting worse.
The film's intitial build through its first 45 minutes is flawless. We are experiencing a zombie-like outbreak through the eyes (or perhaps ears) of a small radio show. The direction manages to give you a realistic feel of exactly what it would be like to become slowly aware of a zombie apocalypse from the confines of a homely news operation. You feel the tension building and the fear rising with every phone call into the station and every report flooding in.
But the originality doesn't stop there. The zombie "virus" itself is a very quirky concept. The "virus" affects the brain as a host through the verbal dispersement of words. Sure, you have to expand your mind a little to adjust to the idea, but few original ideas today can traverse the mundane to something new. Simply accept that there are a variety of trans-dimensional concepts out there and you'll be ready to go for this intriguing story.
Sadly, the movie doesn't hold pace. It seems to become as jumbled a mess as the stammering, mumbling corpses that begin to fill the screen. Our characters struggle to make sense, which, despite its purposeful direction, is aggravatingly incoherent at times. As the bridge between sanity and the infected closes, we find ourselves going insane from the rambling. Even the cinematography and acting seem to take a slide toward the rushed and improvised. It could all be a clever method to further the chaos ensuing, but at times it feels amateurish and ill-effective.
Yet, the greatest slight is our conclusion. After watching an hour and a half of, for better or for worse, original horror content, we get the cliche zombie ending. Well, basically there are two endings for zombie films, aren't there? The zombies win, or our heroes are bombed to smithereens. (Say what you will, 28 Days Later-haters, but it at the very least diverted from these two all-too-common conclusions.) This film takes the "military is a cold, calculating machine of utilitarian principle even if they are the cause of the problem" route and kills our protagonists via bombings. We get a climactic conclusion of Mazzy attempting to send out a message on how to "cure" one's self from the disease as bombs fire off in the background. The radio feeds that play during our closing credits are an attempt to soften the blow of what can often feel like "wasted time". But that is all it does, merely soften the blow.
No one appreciates a "bad guys win" ending more than I. Fallen is one of my favorite films for its ending that gruesomely delivers on this front. But it gets old to continually see a protagonist's struggle to understand the threat, to solve it, and to inevitably beat it, only to die via another event. This method is regularly used as a catalyst against current government structures, but it has been fired so many times, the target has fallen over and now it's just shooting off the mark and into a wall no one cares about anymore.
Pontypool is a great horror film overall. It attacks original thinking on so many fronts, it can be forgiven for its late chaotic pacing and mediocre conclusion. It's creepy atmosphere inspired entirely by sound and verbal recounts in the first half is nothing short of impressive. I regularly give credit to this film as one of the best of this century for its daring perspective and willingness to push the envelope while, for the most part, delivering quality cinematography and acting as well.
Horror Qualifier: 8/10
Horror Quality: 8/10
Film Quality: 6/10