Sunday, September 16, 2012
** This review contains spoilers. **
Grant Mazzy is a shock jock who used to be big on the radio, but now is condemned to the purgatory of a small town local morning show. He wants to challenge people and incite a reaction like he used to, but his supervisor, Sydney Briar, is only concerned with the basics. Weird reports start coming in from various eye witnesses about riots outside of a doctor's office. Over time, the details come together and the picture starts to become clear: people have started to suddenly go insane and attack others. People are being eaten and killed out there. Their town has descended in to chaos and all they can do is try to report what they know, which isn't much. How long will they be safe holed up at the studio? What is really causing this frightening behavior in people?
I read the book this movie was based on and it was very strange and nonlinear. I didn't really know what to expect from the film version, but I braced myself for weirdness. The film is linear in its storytelling, but still has the ambiguity and odd feeling of the novel. The film is separated pretty clearly into 2 parts. The first part is simply establishing the characters and then throwing them into a crazy situation that they struggle to figure out. There are only three main characters: shock jock Grant Mazzy who is desperate to keep some of his edginess in a run of the mill job, Syndney Briar who is Grant's supervisor and sympathizes with him but also wants to keep the necessities in her show without alienating her audience, and Laurel-Ann Drummond who is the idealistic technical assistant and slightly enamored with Grant. The radio show goes on like normal for a little while until one of their reporters calls in terrified of a large crowd of people outside of a doctor's office, attacking and eating each other and gibbering incoherently. Then, thing hit close to home when their studio is attacked on all sides and Laurel-Ann becomes infected. They experience the horror first hand and try to not contract the disease themselves.
I really like the new concept of zombies in this film. The disease is a virus transmitted through speech and only exists in the English language. It manifests in three stages. In the first stage, the person gets stuck on a word and keeps repeating it over and over without even really realizing it. The second stage is where their ability to speak coherently at all fails and they get frustrating at not being understood by others. The third stage manifests in violence when the frustration gets to be too much to bear and the person with the virus has to attack and eat other people, usually one specific person whose speech they mimic until their victim is dead. The most frightening version of this in the film is when Laurel-Ann becomes infected and goes through all the stages in front of them. The way she continually throws herself against the glass of the sound booth to get at them with no concern for her own well-being is more frightening than a horde of zombies trying to get into the studio.
Three things worked extremely well for me in this film. One is the part where people are calling in and relaying the horrors they have seen to Grant. It's horrifying to hear and feel their terror without seeing what is causing it. The visuals we as the audience can conjure up in our minds are much more frightening than anything any filmmaker can put on the screen. This scene is quite disturbing and more effective than I thought it would be. The second is the claustrophobic setting. Except for the very beginning, the entire film takes place in the radio studio building with only 3 characters being the main focus. The studio itself is fairly small and gets even smaller when parts of it are inaccessible due to zombies. It makes it seem like their whole world is reduced to that small building (or just parts of it) because the world is no longer safe and the danger will eventually make its way to them. The third is the disease itself. It's so unique and weird, but is used as a commentary for our society. People in this film turn murderous when not understood, but language in American society is becoming more and more distorted and less important. The vast majority of people would rather watch a film than read a book and abhor watching foreign films because reading subtitles is too much of a chore. Language to a lot of people is reduced to 140 characters tweets, Facebook updates, and text speak. Discourse and real language is no longer a priority to our society when Jersey Shore is one of the most watched shows on TV.
I really like Pontypool. It is an unexpected film that is a great addition to the zombie genre. Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly give great performances that really set this film apart from the shambling masses of zombies films. The only thing I didn't like about it was the very ending scene after the credits. It just served to confuse the audience. The story is undeniably unique and may not be for everyone, but I would encourage any zombie fan to give it a try.
My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins