(Before I can pull my 2009 act together, here is a review of a unique horror film that got a 2009 US release and played at the Oak Street back in September. Definitely worth checking out when it hits DVD. Originally published on In Review Online.)
Within a genre where the grooves are plowed very deep, Bruce McDonald finds a way to cleverly deviate from the tried and true rules of horror film with Pontypool. Although the road less taken results in something close to a brilliant disaster, this brainy thriller offers an interesting ride. Broadcasting from the basement of a church, Grant Mazzy is a grizzled down-on-his-luck shock jock relegated to school closings and weather reports. When strange reports start to trickle in to the station however, he and his levelheaded producer Sydney find themselves at the center of a breaking news story. With only the aid of ambiguous second-hand information, they walk the fine line between reporting the facts and sensationalizing a story. The mystery, shared between the characters and the audience, evolves in the confusion of real time and the claustrophobia of a small room, effortlessly holding our rapt attention. Stephen McHattie, as Mazzy, gives one of the best performances of the year as he convincingly handles the talk radio persona like a seasoned pro, pulling us in with every word. Unfortunately, the riveting first half gives way to zombie theatrics and esoteric silliness, and both plot and performances fall apart. The undead predictably find their way on-screen as does the abstruse explanation for Pontypool’s chaos. Saving the world may not be so easy—the deadly virus, as it turns out, is using the English language as a vehicle for transmission. The heavy-handed allegory is too much too late, and Pontypool is unable to carry the compelling metaphor to its obvious full potential. Unconventional and whip-smart, Pontypool fails to live up to its opening bravado and trades restraint for head-scratching watered-down semiotics.