“Pontypool” is a zombie movie without zombies.
There is an obvious appeal to zombie movies. A person or small group of people is faster, stronger, and smarter than the overwhelming shambling or running undead hordes. They thrive where others fall and fail. They survive, saving their own lives and possibly others. They are in the thick of things, confronting horrors directly, taking action. They see what there is to see and are able to find solutions to their immediate problems. They know what their probable doom looks like. How much more terrifying to be inactive, to be unable to tell what monsters are lurking, what they look like, where they are, what they want, when they will strike? To be passive, to wait, to listen and imagine?
This is the position radio DJ team Grant Mazzy, Sydney Briar, and Laurel-Anne Drummand find themselves in early one snowy Valentine’s morning in the small town of Pontypool in Canada. A boring morning stretches out before them, like so many other boring mornings, until they hear reports of a mob surrounding a doctor’s office and getting violent. They have difficulty confirming this. The police aren’t talking about it. They, especially new hire Grant, worry that it’s a hoax.
What’s going on is a virus infecting language. It’s not airborne, it’s breath born. An infected person has trouble with language, with thought, with words and they search for someone else to infect, to pass the infection on. Their behavior is pretty zombie-like, violent and single-minded and unnerving.
There is a lot of action, of violence, happening but for the first… half? two thirds? of the movie it takes place off screen. We hear it, we hear of it, but we don’t see it… until suddenly it’s there, a mob of bloody hands battering at the glass panes of a door. It’s a tense movie, suspenseful, and that tension is a wonderful combination of good writing and good acting. I sat through a movie about a small group of people locked in a room and I enjoyed it because I cared about the people and what would happen to them. Their personalities and histories were quickly fleshed out, they interacted in a fun and believable manner, the conversation revealed things about themselves and their town. The movie is fast paced without being frenetic.
I’ve had several people recommend this movie to me over the past few years, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it. I know some people who watch it every valentine’s day, and that’s fantastic. I don’t know that it’d hold up to multiple re-watches for me, though, so I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.
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