What makes a great horror film? For starters, originality always goes a long way. Pontypool certainly has no shortage of that! It's also ESSENTIAL that the movie in question gives me chills, makes me jump, and/or horrifies me. Two for two so far! Good cinematography is desirable, but not paramount, so seeing some quality film making is a treat, because let's be honest here. Not every horror flick takes the time to establish a shot or hold a camera properly. So director Bruce McDonald gets big props from me on that front as well. Enough about criteria! You people want to hear about the damn movie, right?! Here we go!
Pontypool takes place in an Ontario town named, yes, you guessed it, "Pontypool". Okay, so the title isn't great. But the tagline got me hooked immediately. As soon as you read the words "Shut Up Or Die", you KNOW you're in for a treat. This is, indeed, a zombie movie, but you've never seen it done like this! Our protagonist, morning radio host Grant Mazzy, arrives in the local radio studio, a converted church basement, for what he assumes will be an average day at work. The "Sunshine Chopper" (The station's weather correspondent in an SUV with helicopter recordings in the background) is in the air, his producer is trying to rein in his on-air bravado, and the cold Canadian winter is giving him a nice excuse to warm up with some coffee and liquor. That is, until reports start coming in about violence in their small town. Some babbling crazies here, a small riot there, and before you know it, Mazzy and the two others in the station are ordered to remain indoors as part of a town-wide quarantine.
The truly intriguing part of the movie's structure is that it takes place entirely in the church-basement-turned-radio-show-HQ from the perspective of three people getting the news as it goes from strange to shocking to downright horrific. The acting in this film is pretty damn good across the board, and the three leads (Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly) pull their weight equally throughout. The whole experience has a very War Of The Worlds feel, and that, my friends, is a VERY GOOD thing. As they report on the growing catastrophe, they begin to unravel and the struggle to stay sane becomes a struggle for survival when the zombies start knocking on their door. These zombies aren't your typical virus-ridden husks, though.
In fact, I would feel like a total jerk-off if I spoiled exactly how and why these people become the flesh-eaters they are, so I won't! Let's just say this is the originality I was raving about earlier. I LOVE the idea they present here. It's very fresh, it's scary on a level I didn't think a concept could be, and the minimalist levels of gore and on-screen violence works to the film's credit. Watching this film unsettled me gradually, until the fear crescendo'd into an all-out freezing chill, and I am very hard to scare. Jump scares aren't really a part of this one, which I can appreciate. At this point, using jump scares is like killing teenagers with a machete. It's boring, stale, and I fucking hate when it's over-used. This film was also simultaneously produced as a radio play, which is also fantastically terrifying.
Pontypool is a great horror film. There's effective humor through the first act, the acting is very solid across the board, the script is well written and executed, and the tension mounts in a truly disquieting way. If you're looking for a run-of-the-mill gore fest like many zombie flicks before it, you will not find what you're seeking. However, if you want to feel true dread and experience excellence in film making on all fronts, and if you like the idea of an actually well made low-budget film, do yourself a favor and check this one out. You won't regret it!
Until next time, I'm Tony, and thanks for reading! NOW GO WATCH THE MOVIE! Oh, and when you're done, tell me what you thought!