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on 15 July 2012
Cripes, what an odd and strangely compelling film in Pontypool. Shot almost entirely in the town's radio station, the intelligence of the film lies in the plot unravelling via second-hand accounts. From the opening scene it's clear that things are going slightly awry but throughout the morning show more and more information is filtered through to suggest the town is in the grip of an unknown virus which is turning the townsfolk into murderous savages.

I think what also works in its favour is the ambuigity insomuch most 'zombie' films (I use the word very loosely here) it's obvious how the virus is transmitted; here there is no neat tying-up of loose ends. Sure, the cast have a reasonable idea of what is causing the outbreak but, even then, how sure are they? This brings me to another point; the plot itself is very clever and one which i've never come across before; how do you prevent a disease which has no physical existence.

The music worked very well to accentuate the creeping dread; speaking of which there's a great scene with the singing quartet. It's at that point where you beging to understand what is occuring. Again, how do you know if someone is sick when there are no outward manifestations of the sickness?

The only slight drawback is the introduction of the town's doctor; it came across as incongruous and spoilt the realism of the film somewhat. Then again, the character did provide some much needed plot explanation.

In short, a thoughtful thriller which reminded me of the J-Horror Kairo. I don't think it would appeal to the out-and-out zombie gore hounds but should appeal to those whom like their films slow-burning and cerebral.
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on 12 February 2013
People are under the impression that this is a zombie movie. It certainly isn't. It's a virus that is spreading in he most ingenious way, and we live the story through they eyes of a group of people stuck in a radio station. They don't know what's happening, they just can hear reports about what's going on.
Very scary, with a very claustrophobic atmosphere.

One fair warning however: if you're looking for non-stop gory action, find another movie. It's a lot more cerebral than your run of the mill horror movie. And it's a good thing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 September 2014
Don't try too hard to understand the reason behind this viral outbreak, just enjoy the humour and claustrophobic tension in this classic low-budget, restrained, understated, non-conventional `zombie' horror movie.

The BBC is reporting a Valentine's Day massacre in Pontypool, a provincial town in rural Ontario, Canada. A television reporter has managed to get an audio link to Grant Mazzy, the morning DJ on the local radio station. Ensconced within a converted church and with a blizzard blowing outside, Stephen McHattie's gruff-voiced grouchy shock jock gradually realises that the received local reports of psychotic mumbling herds of people may not be part of a hoax after all.

The tension builds up in the radio station as Mazzy, along with Sydney (his producer) and Laurel-Ann (his production assistant) slowly realise that something strange has happened to the local population causing them to behave like hordes of cannibals and that their lives are in danger. The arrival of Dr John Mendez (along with his Basil Exposition moment) signals a change in the pace and tone of the film. Apparently the townsfolk are infected with a virus which is spread through the use of language. There are some truly funny moments which break up the tension, such as the pigeon French conversation between Mazzy and Sydney and the visiting Gilbert and Sullivan troupe.

Most of the film takes place in the radio station. This may be a homage to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio play, where you can only hear what may or may not be happening in the outside world, where your imagination runs riot, in this case in tune with the local townsfolk. The telephone conversations between Mazzy and Ken Loney (pilot of the Sunshine Chopper, the station's `eye in the sky') are both gruesome and hilarious.
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on 18 August 2010
So you want to make a zombie film. Not just any zombie film: an intelligent zombie film, sophisticated and restrained. You've got no money, in any event. You can't afford to pay an expensive CG studio to generate the special effects inherent in most movies of the undead ouvre, nor can your budget accommodate enough prosthetic heads packed full of pig intestines to do the trick. What do you do?

You do exactly what Pontypool does: construct a narrative which by design excludes the very things you cannot afford. You make a film set during the zombie apocalypse without actually showing said apocalypse - nor, for the most part, said zombies. Pontypool does a whole lot without very much at all. It's tense, clever and occasionally quite scary. And please, let me open the floor: when was the last time a zombie film actually scared you? It can be difficult to separate an actual fright from the combined shock of a surprise cut and an overbearing score, or the toe-curling unease of an extreme close-up on some disturbing body horror. Pontypool makes that distinction clear for all to see. It's a hell of a film, all things considered.

Stephen McHattie's Grant Mazzy is a controversial talk-radio DJ, gruff-voiced and wonderfully hungry despite having fallen from grace. He makes ends meet in these, his twilight years, by hosting "Mazzy in the Morning" for a modest audience more interested in local gossip than Grant's trademark anti-establishment diatribes. One morning, however, the usual routine grinds to a halt when reports begin to come in of a violent mob overrunning the town. Before his connection cuts off, the station's eye in the sky reporter describes the outbreak firsthand: locals are massing in what Ken Loney (actually just a man in a car on a hill) calls "a herd." They seem to be repeating the same words and phrases over and over, like automatons. It is not entirely out of the question that these people may also have a hankering for brains.

Together, then, with a spunky young audio engineer (Georgina Reilly) and Lisa Houle as a producer who's begun to regret hiring Grant in the first place, Mazzy and company hole up in the radio station HQ, promising to broadcast until the very last. That's Pontypool. Well, that and the particular species of undead it latterly hinges on: zombies infected by language itself, by a virus that lurks in certain words, in the metaphysical chasm between reference and perception. Tony Burgess' script is really very clever - it melted a bit of my brain, though your mileage may of course vary - yet disarmingly intuitive for all that. It demands so little in terms of cast and location, quantitatively speaking, that it could easily be a one-act play.

Such simplistic concepts rarely play in cinema, however. Cinema is a ruthlessly visual medium, increasingly dependent on poking its audience in the eye with a pointy stick every five seconds, and there's simply very little in Pontypool to smash-cut to. A few guys and girls chatting into microphones in a soundproof room just isn't the sort of narrative that plays well on screen - even if the world is ending around them all the while. Car chases, explosions and sex scenes, on the other hand, perhaps even amid the aforementioned apocalypse... now that's more like it!

Well, no. No it bloody well is not. Pontypool is the most definitive rebuttal of modern cinema's overreliance on in-your-face effects, vast casts and globe-trotting "storytelling" that I've had the pleasure of seeing in years. It is refreshingly free of the cheap (though tremendously expensive) tricks with which cinema so often seduces us. At least, it is until director Bruce McDonald buckles under the weight of our expectations in the final act. In ten misguided minutes, there's a clinch, a twist and a slathering of unnecessary nastiness. Come the climax, Pontypool is a little bit too... Outer Limits, say, for its last gasp to sit well with all the low-key horror preceding it. Oh well.

Still. All things considered, remember? For a movie a few dudes made for pocket change, it's a hell of a film. Pontypool is briefly a bit ridiculous, but by and large, it works wonders with precious little. A tense and affecting drama wrapped in the inference rather than the fact of a zombie film's trimmings, Pontypool is a lesson to all indie filmmakers with a speculative tale to tell; a low-budget masterpiece in microcosm. What Primer was to science-fiction, Pontypool is for the genre George A. Romero has single-handedly driven six feet into the cold, clammy earth.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 November 2014
This is a decent siege movie with an original threat/menace, the small cast, which eventually is reduced to simply two protagonists, a radio DJ and his producer, by the end of the feature put in an excellent performance.

Like other siege movies, for instance The Fog and the original Living Dead movies and Assault on Precinct 13 movie, the main focus is upon the small group of protagonists trying to figure out the threat they face and overcome it and in this respect Pontypool is nothing new particularly. There is some good content on this point, like characters debating whether or not they should kill one of their number only to find that same individual sacrifices themselves, or at least risks their skin, to save them. That has been done before, the spotlighting of peoples expectations of one another and the situation or context was done pretty well in The Fog.

There has been some debate about whether this is just another zombi movie, or at least zombi in the sense that 28 days later was a zombi movie, the "infected" or "rage" zombi type. Perhaps that is the case, I personally think that is pretty reductive of what this movie is, and this point also brings me to what I thought was most original in the movie.

The threat is disease, that is not new really, the earliest zombi movies played upon disease paranoia, Rabid was a kind of zombi movie and focused upon cannibalistic disease, there were rabid animal features and rabid people movies too. All playing upon conscious or unconscious plague paranoia or plague terror. However, the nature of the disease in this movie, its consequences for anyone who catches it, how it is transmitted and possible ways of overcoming it are all pretty unique or original. I do not want to reveal too much in the review but there are Wikis and IMDB entires for anyone who wants to get the completer picture without viewing the film. Suffice to say that it could inspire some interest in memes, the whole mind virus thing or the "side effects" of 101 confused and confusing intellectual trends such post-modernism, deconstructionism etc. even if it could not inspire interest in the content of any of those things.

I gave the movie four rather than five stars because I thought it started out strong and progressed well but then had a weak, confused and confusing finish. There has been a little discussion about whether this reflects the remaining survivors succumbing to madness or their prevailing, especially after the black and white animated post credits roll clip but I think all of this is simply artsy direction and messing with the audience. For my part I think the more mundane "conclusion" which is "read out" in multiple radio broadcasts featured as the credits roll is the end of the story proper.
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on 4 May 2013
Pontypool is one of those horror films that only works if you are willing to engage with it imaginatively. I suspect many people would be bored by the idea of a film with three central characters in a radio studio, listing to disembodied voices describing scenes of horror. We are used to seeing everything laid out for us on the screen, multiple locations, multiple camera angles, voiceovers, flashbacks and recaps, just incase you weren't paying attention.

But for horror, what you imagine is nearly always worse than anything the special effects team can conjure up and in any event the fear comes from caring what happens to the characters, (as you do in Ti West's excellent The Innkeepers [Blu-ray], which almost becomes a romance or drama, before the horror starts.) Pontypool wins here by making us imagine what is going on from increasingly unreliable news coverage, live reports from the station's `eye in the sky' Ken Loney, and a sinister government warning against using the English language.

Grant, the shock jock who has fallen from grace and is stuck as a small town Pontypool, Ontario, long-suffering producer Sydney and intern Laurel-Ann don't know what to make of the situation, or what they can do about it. They can only listen in fear and confusion as people they know are caught up in something that has aspects of both mass violence and a plague.

The Blu ray picture and 5.1 sound are excellent on this release, and the special features include a directors commentary and the original pontypool radio play. If this sort of horror appeals to you, I should just watch it straight away. Too many reviews of this film give away the interesting twist, but even if you do know what I mean don't worry. When it comes, the twist changes the meaning of what has gone before and exploring the different interpretations is part of the pleasure of a film like this. Are they close to solving the riddle, or just descending into madness? How would they (or we) be sure?
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on 22 November 2012
Pontypool (directed by Bruce McDonald) tells the story of a small Ontario town in Canada which has fallen victim to an unknown viral infection. The film, for the most part, takes place exclusively in a radio station where the horror unfolds through police reports, eye witness accounts and helicopter reporter Ken (Rick Roberts).

The minimalist style of narrative used in the first half of Pontypool plays out much like Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. This helps us empathize with the 3 lead characters who are just as uncertain and confused by the pandemic as the viewer. Stephen McHattie in particular gives a great central performance as radio broadcaster Grant. His range varying from nuanced to evocative within a matter of seconds. The other 2 leads Sydney and Laurel-Ann don't fare quite as well, though their performances are serviceable (respectively played by Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly). This is particularly evident in Sydney's phone conversation to her daughter which fails to capture the intensity and emotion that the scene calls for. Pontypool flows well as events slowly escalate from a normal day at work (albeit with difficulties between the producer and the broadcaster) to chaos as reports come in of 100's dead.

Within the first 45 minutes there were several thought provoking scenes; from the report of a mother and daughter being trapped in their car under dozens of dead bodies for over an hour to practically every scene with Ken. Of particular mention are Ken's reports of a teenage boy with no hands and subsequently hearing the boy say `mama' in a baby's voice repeatedly, which serve as the stand out scenes in the film. Hearing these reports evokes a more profound level of horror as they conjure more graphic and effective imagery than merely witnessing them. A scene where a radio station caller can be heard dying is also worth mentioning. Equally, Rick Roberts should be commended, his performance appearing both genuine and haunting to help visualise his situation within the chaos; his acting only second to that of Stephen McHattie.

However, Pontypool greatly suffers once the character Dr Mendez (Hrant Alianak) is introduced just past the halfway mark. Hrant Alianak gives an especially hammy performance which took me out of the diegesis that the film had carefully constructed in the first half. Furthermore, aside from Dr Mendez being the cause of the infection his sole purpose is to spurt clumsy exposition which could of otherwise been told through more reports or better yet, left ambiguous. This problem extents to the concept of the infected `horde'. While the twist that the infection spreads through the English language is an original idea (while also adding complexity to the `mama' scene and resolution to the foreign transmission sequence) it is impractical in the second half of the film. Bruce McDonald and screenplay writer Tony Burgess (who also wrote the novel which the film is based on) seem at odds with whether they want the twist to be left to interpretation or given insight and in the process they end up trying to do both. Badly. This leads to the final act becoming a muddled convoluted mess. Throw in an underutilised or otherwise unnecessary `horde' entering the radio station which is devoid of any tension, and a desperate attempt to create chemistry between Grant and Sydney in awkward back-stories about ex-husbands and an even more awkward kiss scene and the film seems to fall apart.

It's a shame as well because the first half is so effective. Pontypool didn't need an intricate plot and should of instead focused on its strengths; its strong emotions, the fear of the unknown, and how the world was being affected around the radio station but not inside. The film is perhaps best seen as original but somewhat flawed, with a strong first half let down by a particular weak second.
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on 6 June 2011
Warning Spoilers!!!
Pontypool is an independent film that doesn't rely on a big budget or high production values or even that many actors and just one set. I'm normally a fan of independent horror as they tend to actual be interesting and have a real feeling of insecurity and macabre. The independents don't rely on spectacle and have time to develop a far more intense world of horror. I have given up on American horror as it never scares me, tends to be re makes of Asian horrors that I by far prefer or use cheap shock tactics but without any real menace and certainly no psychological horror. But this film sounded really intriguing and said it was the best zombie movie out there, now I have a huge soft spot for Zombie's doesn't matter the movie if there's Zombies I'm there. There are so many terrible zombie movies having been a staple of the B movie horror genre and still I love them. Zombies have always made me laugh truth be told but then a new wave of modern Zombie films started to emerge to replace the B movies. Also the Hollywood Zombie movie went from classics such as Dawn of the Dead to the genre killing spectacle that was the Resident Evil movies. Now while I like the re makes of Dawn of the Dead the follow ups lacked any real punch and the 1st Resident evil movie was brilliant but the less said about its awful sequels the better. But alas the Zombie film went from amusing with the clichéd jumps to some truly scary stuff like 28 days Later and Rec. So when an independent says it the best Zombie movie I though hell yes.
Now Pontypool is a creepy little slow burner that starts to unsettle you and then goes a bit too far so it's not really that easy to follow and you are left feeling confused and a bit stupid. The story centre's around a radio station and it 3 members of staff. On one cold dark morning shift maverick radio host Mazzy is spinning his slightly confrontational stories much to the annoyance of his producer that wants him just to report the news and weather and the amusement of the tech girl. While doing their morning program they get a news break about a protest that seems to be going out of control from their eye in the sky reporter. Now the entire story is told and seen from the point of view of these three inside their radio studio so we only know as much as they do and are as clueless to what's going on as they are. We get our information from panicked phone calls and eye witness reports from their one man in the field.
The problem with the movie isn't the slow burn start or the lack of visuals; I didn't mind that all was left up to my imagination. When the scenes of people being eaten or strange mobs are descending on locations I could imagine what they looked like and knew that we were facing a zombie epidemic. The problem isn't even the new twist on the Zombie genre which was actually a really interesting idea. The idea is that this bout of Zombieism is via an evolution in the way a virus is spread. This like 28 Day we have a virus turning people into a rambling mass of unthinking flesh eaters. But it's even cleverer than that the virus is being spread through the English language. Somehow certain words in the English language have become infected and by saying them you become infected and slowly lose yourself as an individual. You see very little of the Zombies in fact its better when you don't as it adds to the sense of isolation and confusion. The problem is the film gets too clever and starts not really making much sense expecting you to fill in all the blanks and understand a whole speech about how we need to learn how not to understand and by making no sense we can survive, which means that there's a lot of nonsensically conversation on how to unlearn our understanding of the English language.
So here is what I have put together of the plot and tried to make sense of what was going on. The virus is in English only and only certain words, a cryptic message tells us that terms of endearment hold the most threat. So ideally we shouldn't be speaking English to each other or using nice terms like sweetheart, which our characters seem to ignore as producer lady calls up her daughter and tells her "everything will be fine sweetheart" way to spread a zombie virus lady!!!! Ok other information that we learn, a cat called honey is missing and some of the Zombies may be wondering around with the missing cat's poster. This I think is how the virus got spread people started looking for the lost cat used the word Honey (which is an endearing term and therefor infected) others overheard and got infected. So there you have it Zombie plague was spread by a missing cat there's a new twist. Somehow when you get infected you start repeating the infected word and then go blank. Once in blank zombie mood you start to repeat whatever sound you here, one report from outside is people standing by a car imitating the sound of windscreen wipers. Noise draws the zombies to you so be quiet, which is a staple of the Zombie genre and so is the fact that when they find you they will eat you.
Other strange plot conclusions include the fact that this disturbance started outside the practice of a doctor who somehow escapes and crawl into the radio station through the window. By this point tech girl is whistling like a kettle clearly infected so doctor ushers Mazzy and producer into the sound proof both and them doesn't explain what's going on. Mazzy is acting skittish and weird and doctor is babbling about linguistics and radio receivers. From my understanding is the Zombies are like receivers they need a sound that they can respond to bouncing this sound of themselves and then for some reason eating people. Oh also another important fact is if the zombie doesn't find a sound to respond to they vomit up loads of blood and die, which is the fate of poor tech girl. This is where I think you need to be a speech and language therapist or have a degree in linguistic or the English language because I don't know what anyone is really talking about, I get the gist of the plot but really they could have made it a little more accessible my Ma in Contemporary Film didn't save me from brain ache.
So what did I learn from Pontypool, don't call your cat Honey, Kiss is kill and if in doubt drop a bomb on it!!!!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 February 2011
Pontypool is directed by Bruce McDonald and adapted by Tony Burgess from Burgess' novel Pontypool Changes Everything. It stars Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly. The plot sees a zombie like virus spreading thru the Canadian town of Pontypool via spoken English language. As the virus spreads alarmingly, three workers at the local radio station must try to find a solution before the virulent hoards get in and finish them off.

Very much an oddity that has garnered enthusiastic reviews whilst collecting a cult fan base, Pontypool will not be for every zombie/virus based movie fan. It's true to say that it has intelligence and a boldness to try something different from the norm. But conversely, although the atmosphere and claustrophobia is expertly blended by McDonald, the film is low on incident and genuine moments of pulse raising. The acting is fine, particularly from McHattie {he's the guy who isn't Lance Henriksen}, while the sound work is top notch.

Director McDonald was at great pains to explain his movie was not a zombie film, the virus infected in it are termed as "conversationalists," they are indeed listed as such in the credits. Whilst he was happy to tell of the three stages of the virus, which is helpful since it's not abundantly clear in the film. It should also be noted by potential newcomers to the film that they should see the piece to the end of the end credits. For laying in wait there is a most bizarre coda that is not to be missed. A sequel, Pontypool Changes, is slated for a 2012 release.

I didn't like the film, but that isn't because it's a bad film. It's because the whole concept just didn't wash with me and struck me as being just a bit too up itself: which in a film being lauded as Cronenbergian in intellect is most disappointing. However, it feels as tho repeat viewings could possibly bring new and more involving perspectives? How will it work out for you? 4/10
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on 30 January 2010
Set in a local Canadian radio station (for almost the entire movie), Ponypool tells the gripping story of a bizarre zombie-like outbreak which brings the town to its knees. Grant Mazzy (played brilliantly by Stephen McHattie) is a jaded old radio DJ who starts his day like any other but ends up reporting on a series of terrifying events. Through the use of long descriptive dialogue from remote reporters and phone-ins, the movie quickly loads itself with non-visual "implied horror" and the tension this creates is astounding. In theory, you could pretty much listen to this without a picture, like a radio play, and get the same effect. It's basically a filmed radio play, but a very good one. At least, for a while.

The first half of the movie was spellbinding, toe-curling and completely brilliant. We're left wondering what the hell is going on, just like the characters in the radio station, and a creeping fear lingers in the atmosphere. But then, roughly half way through, a Dr Mendez turns up and the movie takes a wrong turn and crashes into a brick wall. In Dr Mendez we get a ludicrous and highly illogical reason for the madness, and no matter how wildly I allow my imagination to stretch, I just cannot buy into the theory - or the so-called "cure" that comes later. It is tragic beyond words that a movie which was playing so perfectly, orchestrating such a gorgeous and thrilling tension, simply lost it all in one lousy narrative moment, and it never recovers from there.

All over the web fans and critics alike are praising this movie for its smart originality and boldness, so maybe I just didn't get it (but nor did the people I was watching it with). Yes - it is certainly original. But at what cost? Is originality always worth it? In this case, I'd argue. I would still recommend it purely on the strength of the first half of the movie, which really is an astonishing piece of filmmaking, but be prepared for a plot twist so strange and "out there" that it may leave you as bewildered as I currently am. One thing I can say though, Pontypool will have me thinking about it for a long while!
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