Wide World of Horror: ‘Pontypool’

Stephen-Mazzey-Pontypool

Stephen-Mazzey-Pontypool

Pontypool
Written by Tony Burgess
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Canada, 2008

Dissemination of information is something that society has come to take for granted. Media studies are common place down to the junior high school level in America, for instance. The commonly held belief in the day and age of the internet is that if information is out there then the people deserve access to said information. The consequences of releasing information to the public do not matter, all that matters is that the information is provided for all too consume. Scroll through a Twitter or Facebook feed at any point and one is likely to find a mix of actual news, gossip, unfounded rumors, and bitching. The category of information does not matter. We as a people have entered a state where we eat up any and all information like it is a vital life source.

Is the existence of information enough that people need to know said information? Does the method of conveyance for information matter anymore? On the surface Pontypool is a zombie like horror film. Under the surface Pontypool is a film with a lot to say about information and humanities role in consuming information. All those involved with Pontypool have taken hard questions and presented them in a way that is deceiving. The questions asked at the beginning of this paragraph are the true heart and soul of Pontypool. The horror is secondary, but it never feels secondary. The melding of thematic and filmic aims is what makes Pontypool an underseen gem among recent horror movies.

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Key in the enjoyment of Pontypool is the film’s ability to create suspense. The overwhelming majority of Pontypool is spent in one location; one room to be more exact. Relying heavily on one, drab in appearance, location could have worked against the film. However, the one location approach enhanced the auditory themes of the film. The location combined with the sounds of the film to create palpable suspense. There was a moment near the middle of the film when it becomes evident that we are trapped alongside the characters. This elevates the suspense, and the pulse of the viewing audience.

In cooperation with the location is the voice of Stephen McHattie as morning radio jockey Grant Mazzy. The station he works for is called The Beacon, and what a beacon Grant’s voice is. The character of Grant is the magnet for the audience. Without Grant carrying such an alluring voice the power of the spoken word would not have the same import. Mr. McHattie is never asked to do a lot in his role, but his voice is all that is needed for the importance of his role to take shape.

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There are a few breaks of static in Pontypool’s transmission. There is a sequence where an attempt is made, in fine detail, to explain what is happening in the film. That sequence didn’t need to be in the film, and in many ways it undermines the deft hand of the rest of the screenplay. There’s also an after the credits scene that is very clearly too cool for school. Remove the explanation and the after credit sequences and Pontypool is a near perfect suspense yarn.

Information is out there, whether people need it or not. There comes a point when every individual suffers from some sort of sensory overload. Pontypool posits not just sensory overload, but a lethal sensory overload. When information turns lethal and there’s no way to stop it what will we as a society do? There’s no answer provided in Pontypool, but if there were then Pontypool would be a lesser horror film.

-Bill Thompson

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