Baddie – Talking.
Lesson – Seriously, shut up.
After weeks of a time-related hiatus, Scifridays is back! Okay, technically I came back last week with my brand new column Thrillhers, where I’ll be taking a look at female-directed/written horror movies, something I’ve been wanting to explore further for a while now. But not this week, no, this week I’ll be watching the highly-acclaimed Pontypool. This is a film that’s been circulating around the horror scene for a few years with generally positive reviews, and to be honest, I’ve just never had the opportunity to sit down and watch it. Today, that changes.
Grant Mazzy is what we would call a ‘shock jock’ (according to Netflix) – sortof. He’s been fired from larger syndication and is now working as a morning personality at the local radio station in Pontypool (Canada) who spends most of his time fighting standard weather and news with his normal banter. He doesn’t seem to be inherently one way or the other (conservative, liberal, crass, whatever), but he wants to increase the station’s audience. He’s inherently poetic and clear. Evokes feelings of Nightvale with just an edge of surreal-ness.
Escalation is swift, but pacing is expertly managed in the way of smooth delivery by Stephen McHattie as Mazzy. The radio station receives reports of a riot situation that’s more World War Z, reports of tons of people storming a doctor’s office. A racist singing group (a musical production of Lawrence of Arabia involving face paint…) is a temporary distraction, but one of the girls in the group is clearly affected by the same issue as the woman who ambushed Mazzy’s car earlier that morning.
It’s easy to see the appeal of Pontypool as the movie is, essentially, a brilliant homage to H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds, the infamous broadcast that had most of the East Coast in a panic. A really fun trick to play on your tri-state area is to hold a radio play but tell no one it’s a radio play, then broadcast news as though it was happening in real time. Bonus, add aliens and boom! Mass hysteria. The fine folks behind Pontypool took that concept, flipped it, grabbed all the nuggets of goodness and made a brilliant little movie about a horrendous situation developing outside of the radio station.
Pontypool is a great example of low-budget horror – the entire film takes place on one set piece, and some of the scariest moments are simply being told to us over the phone via radio interview. In fact, the build-up of tension and suspense is immaculate. Almost so immaculate that the ending dips into surrealism and barely scratches the surface of horror. While a treat to watch, Pontypool was, for me, ultimately not ‘scary’. The implications are scary, sure, but the culmination of all the weirdness was just kind of…eh. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this film from beginning to end, but I felt that there was a bit of a miss when it came to the conclusion. All of the careful negotiation avoiding overt ‘monster’ and building all that suspense kind of fizzled out, albeit it in a beautiful, existential sort of way.
In any case – I definitely join the the Pontypool fan club, as it is a great thriller that occupies a unique niche in the horror industry. It’s currently streaming on Netflix (as of the time of this review), and you should go check it out.
Sidenote: It is extremely possible this entire movie is a satirical criticism of non-French speaking Canadians. I’ve been to Montreal, that stuff is no joke.
Questions? Hate mail? Suggestions? Love letters?