Pontypool (2008 movie) review…

Pontypool (2008 movie) review after the break…

Pontypool (2008 movie) review…

“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”

The character Spock from the television series “Star Trek” spouted the above quote and many other memorable phrases during the brief original run of that series. In science fiction, life can be found defying all of the basic tenets for how we think life must exist. Aliens with “acid for blood,” aliens that can imitate other creatures at the cellular level, silicon-based life forms (as opposed to our own measly carbon-based life forms) from an episode of the television series, “The X-Files.”

“Pontypool” is a 2008 movie based upon the book, Pontypool Changes Everything. I’ve never read the book so I can’t judge how close the movie follows the book. “Pontypool,” by the way, is a small town in Canada which, during one Valentine’s Day, experiences a viral outbreak caused by, of all things… Words.

Practically 100% of the movie is within the confines of a radio station that hears of the outbreak firsthand. Grant Mazzy, your typical grizzled, deep-voiced and cynical radio personality, must make sense of the situation unfolding which ultimately leads to confrontations inside the radio station. Two radio engineers and a doctor round out the cast with a few additional cast members providing ancillary roles.

In a lot of my reviews, I tend to have a golden rule about zombie films: In a zombie film, the zombies are the star. This film nearly breaks that rule successfully. Note the word “nearly” in that last sentence. Unfortunately, what makes this film so successful is also what ultimately undercuts this film from being recommended except to those film snobs who want to sample some high-minded fare wrapped in a zombie coating.

If the movie “Pontypool” and “Dead Air” were siblings separated at birth, “Pontypool” would be the high-brow, well-meaning but socially aloof intellectual while “Dead Air” would be the likable, goof ball, failed jock underachiever. Each, though, have one thing in common – In the end, each fails to live up to it’s potential.

“Pontypool” nearly pulls off defying the golden rule of zombies because, unlike “Dead Air,” it isn’t a mixed-perspective film. The movie doesn’t cut to a scene outside of town or provide the viewer with information that the radio crew doesn’t know. What you know, the radio crew knows and that’s all you know. “Pontypool” is as straight forward a first-perspective film as it can be. As a result of the dedication to the first-perspective format, the film excels at being compelling even when it is finally unraveling because of it’s high brow concept.

The movie’s high-brow concept, that the virus is spread through verbal language, is the downfall to this movie. Up until the realization that the virus spreads through words and words alone, there is a certain tenseness and chill that Pontypool’s counterpart, Dead Air, is never able to achieve. Yet once it is revealed that the virus is spread aurally, all hope for a tense and exciting climax deflates. The viewer, for instance, begins to realize that Dr. Mendez’s only purpose is to provide exposition so that people can understand the plot better. Why not just call the good doctor, “Dr. Exposition”?

To be fair, Pontypool is, at times, disturbingly effective as a horror movie. The mind’s eye, our imagination, is infinitely more vivid then any CGI rendering could muster. Imagining a disturbingly organized mob acting like windshield wipers or pulling innocent victims out of a van with only their teeth(!) is brutally effective, sold beautifully through solid voice and visual acting of the cast. The infection of an on-air reporter is well played and chilling despite never seeing the reporter.

Yet, the film takes missteps that are equally unforgivable – Mazzy must speak to BBC world radio far too early in the film for the incident to provide the gravity of the situation; The “Is Dr. Mendez infected or not” subplot never reaches a satisfying conclusion despite an early and effective build up; The “cure” and subsequent radio broadcast of the cure is rushed, confused and ultimately ineffective.

“Pontypool” almost gets away with being a classic little horror movie, forcing the viewer to use their imagination that a zombie invasion (of sorts) is taking place. Had the zombies been created using conventional plot tactics, I have no doubt that this film would have been propelled to far greater approval and revenue.

A sequel to this film is already being planned, called “Pontypool Changes.” Based upon the final scenes (and credits), it is implied that the military did not stop the infestation. Perhaps instead of the military, the authorities had sent out a legion of language arts teachers.

In the end, Pontypool is a zombie movie, but not as you know it.

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