I have 498 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Pontypool (2008)
What’s it rated? Unrated for claustrophobia, face biting and goo.
Did people make it? Written by Tony Burgess. Directed by Bruce McDonald. Acted by Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak and Rick Roberts.
What’s it like in one sentence? A radio-play version of a zombie movie.
Why did you watch it? RelaxingDragon reminded me it was on Instant.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Grant Mazzy (McHattie) is a shock jock fired from his last job and relegated to doing morning news and weather in the tiny town of Pontypool, Ontario. His manager, Sydney (Houle), and technical assistant, Laurel-Anne (Reilly) are the only other people in the radio station as get an unnerving report from their weather and traffic control reporter Ken Loney (the voice of Rick Roberts). Loney sees a mob of people rushing a doctor’s office and a large explosion that kills several people. As the reports keep coming in and getting stranger by the minute, Mazzy has trouble believing that the quiet town of Pontypool is very rapidly going insane with some kind of virus that travels through words.
Play or remove from my queue? Play it for sure. It’s a fascinating concept and one of the most original horror films I’ve seen in years. Stephen McHattie (the older killer from the beginning of A History of Violence) also gives one of the finest horror film performances in recent memory. He carries almost every frame of the film and it’s a damn shame he doesn’t do it more often. I started watching that terrible SyFy Channel show Haven just because he’s on it and it’s torturous because fucking Eric Balfour is on it also, and he reminds me of every asshole that picked on me in high school. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I just don’t like the cut of his jib. Anyway, McHattie is masterful in this and helps add a ton of the tension the film so expertly builds for its first half.
I think my real problem with the film lies in its second half. Watching the infected start getting confused with their words and slip into the not-quite-zombie state they inhabit once they’re contaminated is chilling and listening to poor Ken Loney try and escape the madness on the streets of Pontypool is genuinely scary. Ken is actually one of my favorite touches of the entire film, as we never see him, but definitely get enough details about him to really feel bad for him by the end (the fact that he isn’t in the Sunshine Chopper, just his shitty Dodge Dart is a heartbreaking detail). But once all of the things we’ve been imagining come flooding through the station door in the second half, it takes a big bite out of the tension and horror that we have been imagining. The victims of this verbal virus really just look like zombies, albeit ones who are repeating words over and over. The film gets a lot of mileage out of repetition and a few instances of it gave me goosebumps, but like so much of the film, it loses its power by the third act.
When the doctor that was attacked at the beginning of the film shows up, crawling through a window deus ex machina style, he supplies a lot of the theories about what’s going on, but we never find out why his office was ground zero for the virus. I didn’t need it spelled out, but the fact that the script brought him to the radio station seems pointless if we’re not going to get any solid information about what’s happening. I wasn’t even thinking about it until he showed up and then once he did, all he did was act as an exposition machine, without exposing anything of interest. The tension was already sinking by that point, so I don’t think some clarification would have hurt.
But man, everything else just rocks. The sound design is impeccable and plays a large part in the tension building. The acting is uniformly strong. Bruce McDonald directs with precision and grace. Cinematography, set direction, everything is just uniformly great. I just think that the script sells the finale a little short (which we’ll get into next week),which makes a film that could have been excellent into just a solid effort. Also, someone tell me what the hell the scene afterthe credits means.
Do you have a favorite line? “It’s not the end of the world, just the end of the day” was a nice line that might not have worked in any one else’s hands other than McHattie’s.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? This film made just over $3,000 in the US. Also, seriously, watch the scene after the credits. I have no idea what the hell it’s trying to say.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? The Signal (still one of my favorite horror films of the last 10 years), Masters of Horror: Homecoming (excellent idea, horrible execution), Isolation (is it really an evil baby cow movie?), Rommbock (German zombies…I’m in) and I Sell the Dead (I have rented this movie twice and still haven’t seen it).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? I gotta agree with Netflix on this one. The Signal would make for a wonderful double feature with Pontypool and your dreams would be strange as hell.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.9
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.6
Can you link to the movie? Sure!
Any last thoughts? It’s a really fun movie, it just doesn’t stick the landing. Although, Bruce McDonald envisions Pontypool as the first part of a trilogy, so maybe it’s purposefully obtuse at the end.
Did you watch anything else this week? Meh In Black 3 was not great. I watched Haywire again, which grew on me. Otherwise, I was stuck in Oregon City with no internets until late last night. Sorry about my tardiness.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, Tyrannosaur? I truly did not see the ending coming. I thought for sure Peter Mullan was going to rain down vengeance on the evil husbands head, only to already find him dead by Hannah’s hand was a brilliant twist. Brilliant, but absolutely heartbreaking.
Next Week? Your choice.