Friday, June 1, 2012
Movie Appraisal: Pontypool (2008)
Listeners, there's a something I have to get off my chest about this movie: It's really good. Fascinating really. It's effective- yes, effective- as both a movie and a horror movie, something that I think you'd all agree is pretty difficult to find in this darkened and drastic age of sterile special effects, terribly written screenplays, and critics who think that the only movies that matter are the ones that involve historical figures of one sort or another or A-list actors. Let me tell you listeners that those things have never been true.
You have been lied to your entire life, thinking big names and Hollywood actors are the only people you should be watching movies from. You've heard that horror movies are scum, drivel, pieces of undercover and disguised excrement on a bleeding sidewalk. And you want to know something: everything about those statements might be incredibly true, but that doesn't mean that a horror movie can't be just as good- nay- better than any other kind of film out there.
I love horror movies. I love the feel of them, the look, the style. Everything about them works so wonderfully. Of course not every horror movie is great, good, or even okay, but Pontypool, well here's a gem if I've ever seen one.
The film is all about tension, plot, and the characters. It's effective as a horror movie despite having very little gore, blood, or brains spilling out on sidewalks. Most of the tension comes offscreen where you, as listeners, can only hear what's going on, imagining it as it happens rather than being shown all the garbage gore in shocking detail. And by the tone of my voice, I'm sure you can tell that I look down on the idea of showing every detail. The horror sometimes comes from not understanding and from not seeing, and this movie takes that to heart by showing a radio station and very little else. No explanations beyond some very vague hints as to what's going on. No reason to believe that the world hasn't gone to hell.
Now, listeners, I don't feel like I should spoil this movie. It's good enough and straightforward enough that I don't think it deserves that treatment. It's slow-paced, and builds on both the characters and the plot in such a way that you actually feel for them and want them to succeed. The horror comes from the realization of infected words and phrases, especially those that infect some of the words closest to your heart. Can you imagine a world where you can't express a pet name like "honey" or "sweetheart" for your lover, friends, or children? It seems impossible, but simply imagine a world where your own language has been turned against you, that even in the understanding of a word you may get infected by it. It's horrifying in it's own kind of silly way, and I think it's wonderfully executed even if the idea is a little out there.
This is a movie that could really only be Canadian with their dual languages and historic fight over which language should be spoken and et cetera. I even remember going to Canada a few years ago, seeing the signs in both French and English and thinking that was pretty cool, but I digress. It's a serious issue over there, and this movie certainly touches upon it.
Pontypool is an easy movie to make up theories about as well. I mean, the epilogue certainly leaves a few questions. But there are even questions as to how the "virus" started and if it involved anti-English terrorists or was just a naturally occurring thing. Did the two leads, Grant Mazzy (played by Stephen McHattie) and Sydney Briar (played by Lisa Houle) end up in that epilogue? And how would they have done that? I think it has to do with the fact that most seem to point this movie out as being a psychological horror movie. I do see some elements of that, but despite the people infected with the virus not really being zombies, they're basically zombies. So, this movie really seems to be a zombie film more than anything else... until you start thinking about it. The whole idea of changing reality, the way words work, the meaning and understanding of terminology... well, listeners... maybe this movie has a lot more than meets my little discerning eye. I like to think that maybe reality could have been shifted or changed... or maybe the epilogue was nothing more than a spirited and odd death dream. Who can tell? All that really matters is that the movie was tense, well done, and actually horrific while showing very little.
The acting can be hit or miss at times, but is mostly very good. There are really only four actual characters that show up on screen, but many more who call in on the radio and become personalities through that. The filmography and direction can be odd at times as well, but is mostly incredibly solid if a little slow at times. Bruce McDonald, the director, did a great job altogether. I have to say that the way the film was shot and done all around was pretty fantastic. The screenplay and the lines themselves were also very good, and I'll have to mention Tony Burgess as both the screenwriter and the novelist from the novel which this was adapted from Pontypool Changed Everything.
So, speaking a little bit specifically, I did some work for a radio station a few years ago. Technically I can still use their soundproof studio if I ever need to record anything. I found that the radio scenes themselves were fantastic because some of them reminded me of my experiences doing what I did. The joking, the hectic pace, the one person who is often exasperated and tells everyone else to stop goofing off... It all was very true to life and really drew me into the story and its characters. I do wish there had been more though. At an hour-and-a-half running time, I thought it was a little short, possibly missing a bit of character development from the very beginning of the film.
So, loyal listeners out there, I must bit you a very fond farewell. This review has been a blast. Seeing this movie was fulfilling in some ways. I would both recommend the movie and encourage watching it. I enjoyed it, and maybe all you people desperately seeking some great horror will enjoy it too.