U.S. Release Date: March 6, 2009
Running Time: 95 minutes
MPAA Classification: R (Language, violence)
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Boyd Banks, Rick Roberts
Director: Bruce McDonald
Producers: Jeffrey Coghlan, Ambrose Roche
Screenplay: Tony Burgess
By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 20, 2011
Pontypool is an extraordinary film. Not extraordinary as in it’s one of the best films out there, but extraordinary as in it’s amazing how much it accomplishes in the time and space it’s given. The movie stars Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy, a radio DJ in a small town in Ontario, Canada called Pontypool. On his way to work, he experiences an odd encounter with a mysterious woman, who approaches his car when he decides to make a stop, then abruptly disappears.
He arrives for his shift at the radio station, is greeted by his two counterparts, Sydney (Lisa Houle) and Laurel (Georgina Reilly), and the day continues to unfold as any normal day should. But things begin to slowly go downhill when Mazzy and his radio crew catch wind of a disturbance in town from their helicopter reporter. Apparently, people are gathering by the hundreds and rioting against a doctor’s office. Soon, the riot begins to escalate into something else. Violence rings out, people begin to die. Rumors of cannibalism make their way to the radio station. There is not control over anything anymore. What could be the cause for all of this?
That’s pretty much the synopsis of Pontypool, one of the few recent horror films that is actually scary. Not scary in the “Gotcha!” sense of the word, but more in the genuine, skin-crawling sense. The kind of scary that slowly builds in gut-wrenching tension instead of being abrupt and shocking. And here in Pontypool, that kind of scary is manufactured entirely by dialogue. Now, isn’t that impressive?
Aside from the beginning, the whole story set entirely in a single building, and most of the violence is kept off-screen. This way you’re never quite sure what’s happening. You’re stuck with the main characters inside the radio station, only getting information from the outside. It’s just terrifying not to know what’s going on.
Alas, Pontypool does lose its hold on you as it progresses. The final couple minutes or so are somewhat ridiculous, but no so ridiculous that you get bored. And I just couldn’t believe in the reasoning behind why everyone was acting so strangely. It didn’t seem possible.
The performances are fairly routine for characters of this genre, but McHattie is something to behold. He’s got that look of familiarity, like you’ve seen him before somewhere, but you’re not quite sure where. He brings a needed gruffness to the role and pulls off the character fabulously. I wouldn’t doubt it if he starts getting more lead roles in the future.
In the end, you won’t be blown away by what Pontypool has to offer, but you’ll be highly impressed by bits and pieces of it. Fans of the claustrophobic-horror genre beware: this one’s pretty good.