There are some films that cause controversy right from the start. You can't even classify them without starting some serious flame wars. Take for example 28 Days Later. As soon as it was described as a zombie film the gloves came off faster than a prom dress in a limo. The message boards on IMDb were clogged, debating the finer points of zombie classification, and whether the essence of the zombie film was more important than the endless search for brains. Oddly, the film I'm reviewing today has managed to avoid all of this controversy. Possibly because it had an extremely limited release of only 1 screen in the US.
Pontypool begins with Grant Mazzy, played by Stephen McHattie (a prime of example of 'Hey, it's that guy from that other thing!') a shock jock who has been black listed and cast out into the Canadian winter. The only job his agent has been able to secure for him is hosting the morning radio show in the archetypal small town of Pontypool.
Things start to get a little strange for Grant early one morning on his way to work. While stuck at some traffic lights, a disoriented woman tries to get his attention before melting back into the darkness echoing Grants calls back to him. The day continues to get more sinister as at first, reports of a riot are mixed in with the everyday mundanities, before increasingly shocking and confusing calls begin to build a picture of something far more dangerous. The people of the town are developing a pack mentality, repetitively murmuring and shouting phrases and sounds they've heard. Aggressively pursuing and tearing into the unaffected.
The suspense, fear and isolation that builds up over the course of the day through the progressively disturbing and descriptive reports from people on the scene begins to take it's toll, and the atmosphere it creates is truly creepy. People in the know in Pontypool are extremely thin on the ground, and it is not until almost an hour in that we start to get some exposition of what's been happening, and how the infection is spreading.
Almost the entire film takes place in the basement that the radio show broadcasts from, with only Grant, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and technician/ex-military local hero Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly). The limited cast might seem like a drawback, but their incompleteness is what adds the spin to their decisions and reactions. Grant's aggressive and depressive style is determined to unravel what's going on. Sydney's torn between maintaining the order in her town and making something of the biggest story of her career. Laurel-Ann has great admiration for her colleagues, and is the only person with high-stress survival experience.
Pontypool is likely to leave you with a lot of questions. It provides you with some answers, implies some others, and some are left up to the watcher to decide. You may be left with some mysteries that you can't explain, and you might find this frustrating or intriguing. It's one of those films that doesn't leave you just because you stopped watching it, and I found myself thinking about it on and off for the next week. If you give it a chance, Pontypool is a tense claustrophobic zombie thriller, without the zombies. Try and get hold of it if you can, and then start some fights on IMDb!