OCTOBER 28, 2009
A while back, I transcribed an interview Mr. Disgusting conducted with the writer and director of Pontypool (which he never ran! Bastard!), and I was pretty baffled as I typed out what they were saying. A zombie virus that spreads by words? Kill is kiss? What the hell were they talking about? Now that I’ve seen it, it makes more sense, but I think the lesson to be learned is even more clear: never transcribe someone else’s interview.
Anyway, it’s a pretty terrific little thriller. The description (three people inside a radio station, merely talking about the zombie chaos occurring outside) might sound dull as dirt, but once you learn how people are being infected, it becomes pretty obvious that a radio station is the perfect setting for this particular story. See, as director Bruce Macdonald said, the “zombies” (he refers to them as “conversationists”) become that way not from a bite or some sort of airborne virus, but merely infected words that they hear and understand. Terms of endearment (“honey”, “sweetheart”, etc) seem to be the biggest culprits, so folks are advised to stay away from close family members and loved ones (what about truck stop waitresses?).
This, of course, presents the biggest problem for the characters - they are radio station personnel, trying to uphold their duty to tell their listeners what is going on, but yet are risking further infection simply by opening their mouths. The film’s biggest “oh shit” moment is when they receive a message in French and the radio DJ (Stephen McHattie, in a welcome non-villain, starring role) translates it live on the air, only to discover that the final part of the French message is “The English language is infected, do not translate this message.” D’oh!
The exact nature of the outbreak is a little fuzzy (I’m guessing the novel, which author Tony Burgess adapted himself, explains things a bit better), but it’s a fascinating concept all the same, and even with the limited setting, it still manages to pack in a number of good (if brief) zombie moments, particularly an out-of-nowhere fight between McHattie and a young child zombie. And the constant pounding at the door is just as terrifying (if not more so) than any typical zombie attack scene anyway, so in that department, it delivers.
It also delivers the rare zombie movie that has metaphorical ties to the real world, something wholly absent from many modern zombie flicks. In fact, I can draw many such parallels. Words being twisted into something evil is something religious fanatics more or less build their entire moronic foundation upon, and of course, in a FOX News world, the idea of people acting like animals simply because they heard someone shouting isn’t even remotely far-fetched. There is also a perverse sort of irony in the idea that this newscaster can best serve the people simply by shutting the fuck up. And Burgess is wise to not include any political, religious, or even social dialogue in the film itself; all conclusions are drawn and not forced down our throats like they would be if someone like Paul Haggis was directing this film.
Other than the slightly under-explained third act reveals, my only other issue with the film is the jarring and distracting dialogue about the radio team’s fourth member, the weather guy in the Skycopter. Apropos of nothing, we learn that he is not in a helicopter but in a Dodge Dart that he drives around near his hilltop home. And this is kind of OK because it’s just as good as any other reason for him to be on the ground (so that he can get infected easier), but later we also learn (again out of nowhere) that he’s a pedophile. What the hell does that have to do with anything? The guy is just a voice on the other end of a radio for the first half of the movie, and then he dies. Why the need for this little factoid?
I also disliked that Georgina Reilly’s screen-time was limited compared to McHattie and Lisa Houle (the Maura Tierney-esque station producer), because not only is she unbearably cute, but also she reminds me of Zoey from Left 4 Dead. I liked the idea of a character stepping out of the most frenetic zombie action “movie” of all time (each level of the game is designed like a movie, with its own poster and end credits and everything) into one of the most understated and stationary.
Sadly the current DVD (a “Blockbuster Exclusive!”) has no features beyond the trailer, but hopefully once it is released proper there will be a commentary track or a making of or whatever, as I would love to learn more about the story and also the film’s production (must have been a great day in the pitch room - “It’s a zombie movie without the zombies!”). I’d also love an explanation for the baffling, Sin City-esque post-credits scene that seems like McHattie and Houle playing a scene from a different movie entirely. In the meantime, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m gonna try to find Burgess’ novel.
What say you?