Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I dunno how I feel about Pontypool.

For a guy who bitches about how zombies are played out, I'm a little bummed out that I didn't love Pontypool more. It's definitely a unique take on the whole zombie invasion thing. It gets points for originality, talent, and effort. I just don't quite know how how to process the ambivalence I feel towards the movie.

Pontypool centers around Grant Mazzy, a former big name shock jock radio personality banished to small-town Canada after an unnamed scandal. While on-shift one lonesome winter morning with his producer and techie he starts getting reports of mysterious riots popping up around town. Things proceed from bad to worse and....well, you know, shit happens.

Watching Pontypool, I learned that I tend to prefer stories that take place in the beginning of a zombie uprising. Once the zombies have taken over the world, you've basically degenerated into the same old post-apocalyptic nonsense. Zombies are most scary right at the beginning, when panic sets in and people don't have any good information on the mysterious plague. Pontypool is ultimately a really good movie and the best scenes by far are the moments when the isolated radio station hears the first chilling eyewitness reports of zombie attacks from panicky observers.

I really dug the notion of a virus spread through corrupted words in the English language. It reminded me of the crazy language virus from Neal Stephenson's cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, but its an idea that needed more space to explore than a short movie centered in a small environment. At times the information came so quickly that it felt forced, but the scene where he figures out how to talk his producer down from the infection was really cool. Unfortunately, while it's normally de rigueur to leave the zombie plague's source a mystery, the unique nature of the Pontypool zombies made me really want to learn what was going on. The attacks start when the zombies besiege a doctor's office and the doctor later turns up in the studio. Even though he seems to know a fair amount about the virus, we never learn much from him before he disappears again.

I guess that my big problem with Pontypool is that they did such a good job creating one of the most unique lead characters in all of zombie fiction, then they stick him in the middle of an outbreak centered around language. Suddenly a fascinating speaker isn't allowed to say anything. Because Grant is so clearly based on politically-charged shock jocks like Don Imus and the underlying metaphor is clearly about the danger of spewing unrestrained ignorance out into the air, having the character remains silent misses a lot of good opportunities for the story. Plus, honestly, Grant Mazzy doesn't seem like a bad guy. Sure, he's cocky, but it's not like he ever makes any of the insane, mean-spirited statements that most crackpot radio hosts really make. He's got a fantastic voice and a lot more personality than his job really requires, but if they wanted to show the dangers of communication, they could have made Grant a lot worse.

I've been writing this review over the course of a few days and I keep wanting to say that I really liked Pontypool. It's got brains and skill and talent going for it. The notion of being trapped in a studio and hearing the first panicked reports is genuinely terrifying and, at it's best, Pontypool takes that idea and runs with it. There's a lot of stuff I should have loved, but I'm ultimately so fucking sick of zombies that I couldn't really get into the movie. I'm tired of people saying "what's going on?" I'm tired of people desperately trying to learn anything they can from static-y reports. I'm tired of zombies beating their hands against flimsy glass, trying to get to besieged survivors. I'm tired of watching someone slowly turn. I'm tired of the grim final images.

Please don't take what I said as a shot against Pontypool. It really is a good movie and it really tried to give me something new. I've just subjected myself to waaaaaaaay too many of these things.

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