Telling Not Showing: The Baffling Effectiveness of Pontypool

It’s three in the morning. I just got back from the first screening I had time to attend at this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston. Let me tell you, I had no idea what to expect from Pontypool, and no matter how I try to describe it, you wont either.

The gist: it’s kinda a take on the zombie/survival genre, but that classification really doesn’t do the film justice.

The story concerns has-been shock-jockey Grant Mazzy (
Stephen McHattie) and his small crew as they try to decode the mysterious events going on outside their radio station in a small Canadian town.

The film may have its flaws, but it is most definitely original.

I guess I’m a terrible film studies major and writer in general because I really have no clear cut opinion about this film.

First the good: Stephen Mchattie turns in a serious slam-dunk performance, you read that right, a serious, no joke, honest to Betsy good performance in a horror film (and despite the producers at the screening spewing the old ” it’s a psychological thriller” line, Pontypool is 100% horror). Mchattie’s Grant commands a silky voice behind the mic, but we get the feeling long before the horror arrives that this is a troubled dude.

As any book on writing will tell you “rule number one” is: “Show don’t tell.” Pontypool sticks a big finger up at that rule by having almost the entirety of the “action” take place off-screen and described it through radio call-ins. It sounds like a bad decision, but writer Tony Burgess, director Bruce MacDonald and Mchattie really make it work. The scenes where Grant moderates listener call-ins are far and away the best in the film.

Now let’s talk about scares: Pontypool has them by the bunch. They aren’t the disposable kind that make you flinch or jump, but the solid gold kind that follow you on your walk home from the theater.

One more unconventional thing Pontypool does right: comedy. Pontypool is by no means a horror/comedy. There is humor throughout and it never seems out of place. A tricky balancing act, but one wholly appreciated.

While we’re drawing a line between good and bad we should just draw a line right down the middle of the film, in the first half is the good (so good!) and the second half is the….let’s say “problematic”, because I really don’t want to denigrate what I feel overall is a very fine film.

The aforementioned problems are caused by a tonal shift towards the end that drags the film a lot closer to avant-garde than it had been previously. This is by no means a bad thing in itself but it complicates any classification we thought we might be able to put on the film. I’ll be honest there are probably at least ten minutes of this movie that I down right didn’t care for, but when there is cottage cheese in your Easter basket it dosen’t make the chocolate any less sweet.

Well, see it for yourself. As I’ve said before; I dont run reviews, I just try to put up journal entires for my own entertainment. If I had to bottom line it: Pontypool is most defintely worth your ten dollars, if you go in with an open mind.

It opens May 29th in select cities and debuts on VOD through IFC the same day.

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