From the Vault: Pontypool

Pontypool—which is quite possibly the worst title I’ve ever heard—pays homage to its radio roots right from the start.  Shock Jock Grant Mazzy, expertly played by Stephen McHattie, purrs the story of a local woman’s missing cat over a black screen broken only by a red, skittering sound wave.  I know it sounds mundane, but there’s something innately chilling about his delivery.  Pontypool banks a lot on that kind of vibe.

A great deal of the film is spent watching Mazzy “do his thing,” much to the chagrin of his producer (Lisa Houle) and amusement of his board operator (Georgina Reilly). Mazzy’s “thing,” it seems, is pissing people off.  And though we get little to no explanation as to why he was fired from his original job and plopped in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, we can guess.  The man lives to start trouble.  Turns out this town doesn’t really need his help. 

Soon, Mazzy begins receiving phone calls describing scenes of mob violence randomly erupting all over town. Seems some folks have taken to babbling incoherently and eventually assaulting their fellow. . . Pontypoolians? Pontypoolans? Whatever. Point is, the source of this zombie-like behavior is revealed to be lurking somewhere within the English language itself, begging Mazzy to wonder whether his on-the-spot updates might be hurting more than helping.

I realize that you’ve probably gotten hung up on that whole “lurking within the English language itself” business.  I must warn you that I can be of little help with any real explanation and I certainly wouldn’t hope for Pontypool to give you one either.  It is far more interested in the metaphorical, it seems, than the literal. It’s taking the social commentary of Romero’s zombie films to an extreme and this is really where the film begins to derail. 

The power of language as well as the construction and deconstruction of words are interesting topics, but do they really have any place in a zombie film?  I suppose I appreciate the attempt to bring something new to the table, even if it doesn’t quite work.  It’s just that Pontypool gets so strange and esoteric by the later half of the film that it kind of blindsides you.  Couple that with an ending that’s a bit less than satisfying and what you have is a film whose reach far exceeds its grasp. So just what exactly is it about the English language that’s setting people off?  It’s really best if we don’t talk about it.

*NOTE: Yes, I do realize how many times I used “Pontypool” in this review. There’s something hypnotic about it, don’t you think? Pontypool. . . Pontypool. . .

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