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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.52%
Worth A Look71.43%
Average: 9.52%
Pretty Bad: 4.76%
Total Crap: 4.76%

2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"What are words for?"
4 stars

This review might kill or infect someone, so I have to be careful. In "Pontypool," the English language itself is a courier for rabid undeath. People all over the snowy Ontario community come down with some sort of verbal virus, which makes them repeat certain words over and over, leading to madness and then flailing cannibalism. Are they zombies? The word seems imprecise. The film's director, Bruce McDonald, refers to them as "conversationalists."

The movie is based on Tony Burgess' 1997 novel Pontypool Changes Everything, a gorgeously composed experiment in wordplay. (Often, it's as if the very book itself is being assaulted from within by its own language, and the reader experiences a heady form of disorientation.) It's also highly subjective and episodic and as such impossible to adapt. So Burgess pulled one of the characters, radio DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), and put him at the center of a minimalist story in which he and a few others are trapped in a church basement (where Grant's station is set up) during the "conversationalist" outbreak in Pontypool.

McHattie, an always-intriguing character actor, carries Pontypool with grace and ease. Grant, a saturnine DJ whose motto is "Take no prisoners," likes to rant on the air and stir things up; he's been fired from one gig and is starting over again at this literal bottom-drawer station, with the help of manager Sydney (Lisa Houle) and local-hero intern Laurel (Georgina Reilly). Odd reports start filtering into the news segments, and before long the infection has found its way inside the station. The plague finds its root in Grant's very livelihood, which he and the others must renounce or work around if they hope to survive.

Pontypool, ironically, takes its cue from the lulling rhythms of McHattie's speech. It is, if you will, a thinking person's zombie movie, which in practice means the gore level is low and the dialogue level (up to a certain point) is high. It's never boring, though; McHattie and Lisa Houle have an amusingly confrontational rapport, and as the outside threat ramps up, the tension builds realistically. A solution is proposed, but who knows if it will work?

"Pontypool" sort of loses focus towards the end, as if the screenwriting software had succumbed to the virus. But it's still an entertaining cerebral chiller wherein language both loses and gains meaning a true horror film for those who care about words.

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originally posted: 10/27/09 14:40:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/20/13 brian Fascinating for 45 min or so, then the thing buckles under the weight of its own absurdity. 3 stars
1/07/13 Langano Ridiculous premise, waste of time. 2 stars
1/16/12 Flipsider It's very watchable despite a weak beginning and some big flaws. 3 stars
12/30/10 SteveO Flipside of the HG Wells broadcast hysteria. Plot a bit muddled, but creepy and effective 4 stars
10/28/10 Ryan J. Marshall A film that has the uncommon power to scare us one moment and humor us the next. 4 stars
6/08/10 Jo Pontypool is movie of the month on watch it there! 5 stars
2/07/10 art IF YOU HAVE SEEN one of these TRIBE OF FILM,you have seen them ALL! m 1 stars
2/05/10 GG Pan Fascinating & cerebral minimalist horror (Talk Radio meets Dawn of the Dead?) 5 stars
9/08/08 Mike Briant More of a psychological thriller than a zombie movie, it's both frightening and funny. 4 stars
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  DVD: 26-Jan-2010


  DVD: 26-Jul-2010

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