Saturday, June 20, 2009

Silence is Golden

Pontypool (2008)

Spoilers within. Be ye warned.

Filmmakers are dying to make zombie movies. You might say there is an epidemic of zombie movies* or movies with zombie-like antagonists. This is one of the latter. The story centers on a small Ontario, Canada town called Pontypool, and a talk radio DJ named Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and his two-person staff. When the shit hits the zombie-oscillating fan over Valentine's Day, ordinary folks start going apeshit - attacking people, often loved ones, ripping them apart, etc. - Grant is on the air trying to report and make sense of it all. This is a very interesting, but also very frustrating, film from director Bruce McDonald, with a screenplay by Tony Burgess adapting his own novel.

There's a great idea at work here, and it's not the non-zombie zombies, which are so ever the fashion after the terrific and oft-imitated 28 Days Later. Instead of a virus from space (Night of the Living Dead), or one that's man-made in a lab (Res Evil and 28 Days), the "virus" at work here is one of WORDS. That's right, somehow certain English language words have become deadly.

It works like this, first you get stuck on a certain word, usually a term of endearment like, "honey;" you forget what the word means so you repeat it endlessly. Then you develop a sort of aphasia where your speech comes out all scrambled. Finally you become so frustrated and enraged, to quote director McDonald, "you become so distraught at your try and chew your way through the mouth of another person."

This movie would probably make a great short play, as the majority of the action takes place in Grant's DJ booth and the producer's and engineer's stations directly outside of it (it mostly uses its low budget effectively, but I think the camerawork could have had a bit more energy, more movement to it). And that's part of the problem with the movie. It often just sits there, like the main characters. Also the movie takes far too long to get going; it took over 30 minutes before the crap hit the fan. It took far too long to set up the Grant Mazzy character (just from his look I got the impression he was a Don Imus-type who's been around the block; now he's stuck in little Pontypool). Once it got freaking going it was interesting despite the confined space.
I love the idea that somehow certain words have become toxic and contagious. (If this idea had been presented to Rod Serling at the height of The Twilight Zone he would have turned it into a great episode.) But the movie doesn't DO anything with it. I had no idea what the movie was SAYING about this terrific idea. Yes, it's ironic that a talk radio DJ is ordered by the authorities to cease his broadcasting, lest he somehow infect others. But what was the point to it all? That talk radio is evil (some political talk show hosts might fit that label)? That we're not affectionate enough with one another and that's why words of endearment become toxic? No clue from the movie.
In a story where words act as a killer virus, I just wish Pontypool had something (clear) to say about the way we communicate.
* There's been 4 Resident Evils (3 live action, 1 animated), 2 28 Days Laters, Versus, Undead, Shaun of the Dead, 2 recent Romero Dead movies with another on the way, remakes of Romero's Dead movies, The Return of the Living Dead series, The Signal, not to mention the countless amateur and low budget zombie movies and upcoming remakes of old zombie movies!

No comments:

Post a Comment