My new favorite film is Pontypool from 2008. Fans of horror I’m sure are already familiar with it and I had heard about this film quite some time ago and put it at the end of my long and growing Netflix Que. Well, Pontypool suddenly became available for watching instantly over Wi-Fi so I sat down on this Saturday afternoon and was drawn into a horror mystery. It’s a film that I’m still thinking about a couple of hours after because what I’m trying to figure out is, “Is it possible?”
Maybe not, but the premise is very intriguing and for some people who are only amused by straightforward zombie films or series like The Walking Dead it may upset them–it is not a zombie film even though it has the feel of a zombie film. The explanation for the virus is strange, almost ridiculous and yet the brain is a computer and can’t computers crash?
The premise is very simple and very effective. Stephen McHattie plays Grant Mazzy who apparently was a former shock jock who was fired and is now broadcasting in the small town of Pontypool in Ontario, Canada. He’s rather bored by the local news of school closures and cold weather and longs for news he can use to snare more listeners. He gets it in the form of a riot said to be happening in town but only bits and pieces of information flow in and lack of confirmation only makes him, his producer and a station assistant more confused as to what the hell is actually going on. When the station assistant starts acting odd Mazzy turns scared even while in his soundbooth he is one of the safest places he could be.
The virus or viral transmission of the brain disorder is an infected word or several infected words. Author Tony Burgess doesn’t tell us exactly what words except they are likely to be terms of endearment. He calls the persons who are infected with “infected” words “conversationalists.” The conclusion is also that it’s not the sound of the words, but the understanding of a the words and the language involved has to be English. For example, someone says “sweetheart” to you, you understand the meaning of the word which trips something in your brain to where you start repeating yourself. Eventually, you cannot think correctly and the only way you think you can fix your condition is to, as posted on Wiki, “…chew through the mouth of another person.”
This is a thinking person’s horror film. While the idea may be complete nonsense like Dr. Seuss writing a zombie flick, it still sticks with you. You want to dismiss it but I keep thinking of all the psychiatric disorders there are. Can one person, in an isolated event, infect another person? In jest, we could say husbands and wives make each other crazy, but what if you were isolated with a psychotic on an island? Would their behavior eventually drive you mad similar to if you were infected? How powerful is behavior and speech in comparison to actual diseases transmitted by saliva, blood and other bodily fluids?
If it is all nonsense and irrational, I believe the author still tapped into something very haunting as a commentary on the human condition. Making the ability to communicate a source of infection is a horrific idea.
SIDENOTE: Some viewers have compared Pontypool (2008) to Dead Air (2009) directed by Corbin Bernsen. The only comparison is the radio booth location. Dead Air is a zombie film. Pontypool is not. Pontypool is an abstract horror film (the best description I could think of) because it doesn’t follow any zombie rules and is about language infection. If you’re looking for a good B-movie horror film I personally still like Dead Air, mainly because of the performance of Bill Moseley at the microphone. Stephen McHattie as Mazzy is very good in Pontypool as well. Now I know for a fact that more scenes were planned for Dead Air and critics dismissed it, but the claustrophobia of being in a radio booth and not being able to visually see zombies attacking the city is one that spurs the imagination. It’s not a complete film, in my opinion, but worth watching as a horror experiment.
The radio booth scenario has been done before. I recall listening to Cape Cod Mystery Theater about a crazed killer calling in over and over until he shows up at the radio station. The concept is to dispense with special effects and let your imagination sit in the dark until you come up with the horrifying visuals on your own. I wonder if we will see the concept done again with podcasting? Unless it has been done? Feel free to comment with more info.