Monday, October 1, 2012

Thirty-One Chills: Pontypool

First Cut
Pontypool (2008)

A lean thriller that hits us where we least expect it.

I give it an 8 of 10.  Acting is top notch, direction is solid, and the script is practically perfect.  This is not a cheap thrill, there is no sexual aspect to it at all and the violence, when it comes, is impacting and not glamorous. 

The Meat
Pontypool is an adaption of the novel Pontypool Changes Everything, and is adapted by the author himself.  The movie was produced simultaneously to a radio drama, inspired by Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast.  Interestingly, the movie was shot in the actual village of Pontypool, Ontario.  This flick is often confused for a zombie movie, and it is a fair mistake.  Like most good zombie movies the cast is tiny, three primary speaking roles, and only a couple of more with any significant lines.  It is shot almost exclusively in the basement of a church that has been converted into a radio studio.  As the situation unfolds it is the reactions of our protagonists that are important, this is a character driven story, not so much about plot, and certainly not about action. 
            Grant Mazzy is a hard drinking shock jock who managed to get himself drummed out of the big city and is now in the sticks.  It’s a morning show and the first thing he does as he settles himself in for the day is pour some Glenfiddich into his coffee directly in front of the young sound producer.  Stephen McHattie plays the gruff, gravel voiced, and oddly affecting DJ perfectly.  He brings a gritty intelligence to the part that really conveys the down on his luck wit of Grant Mazzy.  He wears a cowboy hat like Don Imus, but is much more listenable.  His producer, Sydney Briar, is this quiet, lovely woman who just wants to do her job and is simultaneously amazed she has this big, “Take No Prisoners” jock on her airwaves, and completely over the fact he is a drunk egomaniac.  Sydney is played by Lisa Houle, real life wife of Stephen McHattie and the chemistry is immediately notable.  One would hope so.  The last primary character is the sound engineer, Laurel-Ann Drummond, veteran of Afghanistan, Homecoming Hero at the County Fair, and All-Canadian Girl.  She’s played by a young British actress named Georgina Reilly who has a delicate beauty, and provides some of the most impressive physical acting I have seen since The Last Exorcism. 
            I’ve told you that this is not a zombie movie, and I would love to tell you why it isn’t, but to do would spoil the flick.  I will give you only one hint, the book “Snow Crash” is laying on the desk in one scene.  The movie is shot in real time, starting the moment Mazzy enters the studio, and it is best digested in one sitting.  Do yourself a favor, sit back, get comfortable, and pretend you are settling in on a deep Canadian winter day, snowed in, and going to enjoy the dulcet tones of a burned out shock jock.  Let the movie unfold before you, imagining yourself hearing this on the radio. 
            The movie’s strengths are its claustrophobic atmosphere, the realistic reactions of its cast, and the sparing use of violence and gore.  Its weakness is the languid pace in the beginning, one that is overshadowed in my opinion.  The end credits are fantastic, this movie uses every bit of screen time it has.  


  1. Replies
    1. I've been deciding on a grading scheme for a while, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a thought provoking, character driven thriller.