The horror genre as a whole can be very formulaic, and this is especially
true with zombie films. It's seldom enough we get innovation and
original ideas in horror films, but to see a zombie film present us with
such a wild and novel idea is something truly rare. Pontypool is not an
amazing film by any stretch of the imagination, it's very flawed, loses
it's charm towards the end, and sadly kind of kills itself with
exposition, but I loved it because it gave me something that I haven't
Now, it's not really a zombie film in the traditional sense, so for those who'd argue that the furious infected hordes in 28 Days Later aren't zombies, Pontypool's antagonists fall even further afield from the living dead; they are victims of a virus that is transmitted verbally. It's just a remarkably compelling idea, and this plays out in the film in interesting ways, and at one point we see someone infected over a mobile phone conversation.
The behaviour of those infected can be very creepy as well, imitating sounds and repeating phrases. One particular 'hair on end' moment for me was a scene where it turned out that a character had been making a background noise for the whole scene. It's these kind of audio queues that make Pontypool so creepy, and it's refreshing to have a film unnerve me through sound in ways that are a lot more inventive than what a lot of other horrors simply use predictable loud noises and such audio stingers to provoke a shock.
Pontypool has other things going for it. The film takes place almost entirely within a radio studio, and most of the "action" that goes on is described to us from callers to the radio show and other scattered accounts. On one hand, it's extremely clever use of a small budget, and on the other hand, it lends itself to great storytelling, a lot of what's going on outside of the studio is left to our imaginations and it comes across a lot richer than if they simply showed us such scenes. Director Bruce McDonald is extremely effective in his execution. I love a film that's not restricted by it's budget, that doesn't need millions of dollars to relate grand ideas to it's audience, and while it's not exactly 12 Angry Men, Pontypool does offer an extremely claustrophobic, tense, and thoroughly gripping experience for the most part.
As well as that, we also have veteran actor Stephen McHattie in the lead role, who many will know as Hollis Mason in Watchmen, and for someone playing a radio personality, he's got an absolutely terrific voice for it. He's an actor that reminds me a lot of Lance Henriksen at his best, has that same kind of gravitas. Even with such a brilliant concept, a film like Pontypool would have completely fallen on it's face from the outset without an actor like McHattie, as it's so dialogue driven.
Sadly, the film does falter. From a tremendous start, it picks up the tension and atmosphere, but somewhere towards the end it loses a lot of that. It starts to decline when we're introduced to Doctor Mendez and he starts talking about the virus, there's too much exposition and explanation given, and the character feels little more than an unnecessary plot device. We didn't need running commentary observing the behaviour of the infected, the film had been much more effective without that. The ending also leaves a little to be desired. Overall though, I can't help but to be impressed by Pontypool, and for the most part completely enjoying it. The sheer inventiveness of the film has to be applauded, and while it has it's shortcomings, I'd hold it in far higher regard than other more ordinary and formulaic horror films. Pontypool is a tense, atmospheric, and more importantly, wildly original film.