Directed by: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly
Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2010
It takes a lot to surprise a zombie genre aficionado like myself anymore. Why? Well, quite frankly there isn't a whole lot of ground left to cover that hasn't already been done. We aren't talking so much about locale or production budgets, but about the zombies themselves. We have seen talking zombies (Return of the Living Dead), slow moving zombies (every George Romero horror film), running zombies (Dawn of the Dead remake), crazy zombies that really weren't zombies (28 Days Later) zombies that die with a shot to the head and others who don't die at all.
But just when you think you have seen it all comes along a film like Pontypool, who despite having a horrible title delivers a zombie experience unlike any other to date. It isn't just the zombies either, but the location is rather inventive as well. Likely dealing with a limited budget, the filmmakers decided to place the film inside a radio station for the entire duration with the story told primarily through phone calls and live on air news reporting from the field that we only ever hear and never see. That may sound like a horrible idea, but trust me, it is much better in practice than you could imagine.
Fans of the original Night of the Living Dead may recall that one of the most effective tools that George Romero used to curb any issues with the budget or lack thereof was our own imagination. His characters would sit around and tell stories of the chaos that we never actually got to see and it was dam effective. Likewise, the filmmakers of Pontypool use the idea of a shock jock (played by veteran character actor Stephen McHattie), his sound technician and producer in this remote radio station during a blizzard with the city outside going to hell to great effect.
By never showing us what is happening outside and only ever have it described to us, either in detail or in nail biting brevity, it allows us to picture in our own heads the gory details which in turn ratchets up the intensity level to great heights. But as mentioned before, what really sets the film apart from other similarly themed horror films are the zombies who are unlike any zombies you have encountered before. As much as I would love to explain what makes them so different, and dam creepy, it would take away from the experience of discovering for yourself along with the characters what is happening. If you like your horror more cerebral than in your face gore, then Pontypool has your number.
The production is pretty slick as well, with the cast all doing solid work and the look of the film being darn impressive for such a limited budget. But special mention has to go out to McHattie who owns every single frame he is in as he demands our attention through a powerhouse performance.. His shock jock is the perfect conduit for us to learn through about the chaos happening outside. As he questions the legitimacy for the craziness coming through on the phone lines, we ourselves begin to question the sanity of everyone in the film. When he discovers that it isn't some practical joke, but really happening, he once again shifts gears into a role that isn't exactly a hero type, but more of a real guy reacting realistically to the lunacy all around him.
Forget about its silly name and the fact that it has no real star power behind it. This is a suspenseful, creepy, original and often times surprising little horror film that works well within the confines of a single location and is able to mine it for all its worth. See it immediately.