Friday, 11 January 2013

Review - Pontypool (2008 - Dir. Bruce McDonald)

Pontypool is a bit of a masterclass in low budget film making. They're even cheeky enough to tell you how they did it. I won't spoil the scene but it's all about sound. I'm not going to sit through it again with a stopwatch, but I would guess that there are only about two minutes of zombie footage. The threat is made more intense and, perversely, the zombies kept alive in the viewer's mind through the clever script and the sound effects. 

Another thing that helps the low budget is that the vast majority of the film is set in a radio station. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a DJ for a local radio station in Pontypool. On his way to work Grant stops to make a phone call and is startled by a woman banging on his window. When he winds down the window she is repeating the same words over and over. Mmm, intriguing. At the station he is joined by his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and technician Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly). Then they begin to receive some strange news reports... Some other characters make an appearance but costs are kept low through the use of a small cast. 

The zombies aren't really zombies in an animated dead kind of shambling about way. In fact, they're more... get ready for the dirty word... 'infected' than anything else. At least they don't actually look like zombies, they look more like confused people. In the context of the story this fits perfectly. And again, keeps the cost down.

Apart from one moment of excessive bloodiness, the rest is kept offscreen. There is a fairly brutal kicking but you soon realise that you actually saw nothing and it was all done with sound effects. Was the budget low or was the director just tight?

I'm not painting that great a picture of Pontypool. But what the film-makers have done is look at what they've got access to, what they can afford and what they can do well. The script is great with a pearler of a line about a paedophile. The writer brilliantly painted images into my head as the characters heard from their weather reporter out in the field, Ken Loney. Better than actually seeing it visually.

It is really well shot. The initial shots of Grant Mazzy on air are accompanied by tracking shots of all three main characters, creating an intimate radio-like atmosphere. Off-air the camera switches to being more static, but depth of field is still used beautifully. 

The main characters are all well-realised and believably acted. The top piece of casting has to be Stephen McHattie. If he hasn't got a radio show of his own he should be given one. Even a radiophobe like me might listen to it. Well, no, I wouldn't, but you get the idea.

Don't go into this expected your usual zombie fare or you may be disappointed. This is far more restrained and - what's the opposite of 'In-your-face'? 'Out-your-face'? - whatever, it's that. (In a similar vein the opposite of 'Off-your face' must be 'On-your-face'. For example, 'When I got to work this morning Terry was completely on-his-face.') Enough of this malarkey, give it a watch. You may be pleasantly surprised.

(Average rating for the season so far = 7.5)

If you like this you could also try:
Shooting the Past, The Fog.


  1. Keith, I love this film!!! One of the things I do want to let readers know is that the script is incredibly literate...abd the beginning credit sequence is awesome.

    This was actually taken from a book called "The Pontypool Murders" and adapted by the same wrkter. Director was the Canadian Bruce Robinson, who also directed the great "Tracey Fragments". This film is well worth any horrorhounds time.

    1. I completely agree with you Karl. It's a shame that Pontypool isn't more well known. Although if someone went into it expecting the usual zombie gore fest they would be disappointed. But as a horror film, it's great stuff.

      I will give Tracey Fragments a watch. I've already put it on my rental list. Plus it's got Ellen Page in it. That's got to be a good sign.

  2. I tend to agree with you. This is a zombie film that isn't for everyone. It brings a unique, and needed, concept to the horror genre, but doesn't bring the expected carnage. But I think that's ok. I like it when a horror movie comes along that feels real with characters that have depth. I've had enough of early 80's stereotypical characters in grind-house horror flicks.
    I also got the chance to review this film on my new blog. I'm just getting started and would love some feedback from a critic. Check it out if you can.

    1. Thanks for the comment and I will certainly have a look at your blog and give you some feedback.