Director: Bruce McDonald DVD Release: 25 January Review by Tara Judah That horror, and the zombie flick in particular, have experienced something of a resurgence recently is hardly breaking news, but what is worth talking about is recent addition to the zombie renaissance, Pontypool (2008). With the horror revival split into two major directions: 1) those that increase their artificiality such as The Final Destination (2009) and My Bloody Valentine (2009) drawing attention to their own form (through the use of excess and 3D technology) as well as including extreme and often farcical content, and 2) those that continue to pursue a greater verisimilitude through minimal, naturalist aesthetics and a measured, linear story subtly creating palpable tension; Pontypool belongs to the latter. After films such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), 28 Days Later (2002) and the remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) there have been many realist viral horror films to emerge; Rec (2007), Quarantine (2008) and Colin (2008) are but a few that have graced our screens, all of which have offered new and intelligent subtleties in their additions to and alterations of the sub genre. But Pontypool may well be the cleverest of them all. Adapted for the screen from his own novel, Pontypool Changes Everything, Tony Burgess apparently hashed out the script in just forty-eight hours. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Pontypool was produced simultaneously as a film and as a radio play. Certainly the motion picture production reflects the sense of urgency and immediacy belonging to broadcast in its own creation of a claustrophobic, well contained setting: a desolate, small town radio station. Stephen McHattie plays radio host Grant Mazzy with a voracity that absolutely proves he deserves a place amidst Hollywood’s finest. Supporting actress Lisa Houle, level-headed producer Sydney Briar, supplements McHattie’s expert craft with aplomb and together they give Burgess’ words the life they deserve. It is not without a pleasant dose of irony however that these words, given life on screen, prove to be the very subject of death therein. Unlike the realist horror films that have come before the ‘viral infection’ in Pontypool is revealed as a problem of semantics and an interrogation of linguistic comprehension. From early reports of masses of locals protesting and chanting outside Pontypool’s doctor’s office to the BBC’s contentious suggestion of an insurgency, and finally to the assault upon the radio station itself, it is painfully evident that media’s use of language to distort and control is the true villain and sole arbiter of the viral infection here. That the outbreak is contained to the English language only serves to further reiterate the overwhelming controlling power of the Western world’s media output. There is too perhaps something of a commentary upon the incessant and unnecessary English language remakes of the large body of ‘foreign’ films, particularly as pertaining to the horror genre itself. The concept of understanding is absolutely key to the film; understanding in the first instance that there is a viral infection, then, understanding where the infection originates, how it is ‘caught’, what its effects are, and finally, how to create an antidote, so to speak. Just as any struggle against oppression appears impossible and often futile, Mazzy and Briar are no exception. It is only when they remove themselves from others and confine themselves to individual thought that they are able to counter the infection. Ultimately, abstraction and strangeness, subtracting the ‘meaning’ from the ‘word’, is what disinfects the virus and kills the scare mongering that the media are evidently responsible for. Finally, and a little self-consciously post-credits, there is an odd sequence where our protagonists have crossed over from the world of colour to a black and white resolution. Essentially, they have symbolically removed all trace of excess and bias from the ‘original’ picture. Perhaps the ultimate irony is the strangeness of this final shot? Cinematic visual style is yet another form of artifice and ‘control’ insofar as it manipulates the viewer into constructing an intended ‘meaning’. The heavily over-stylised final shot is arguably Bruce McDonald’s wry, tongue-in-cheek last word on the subject. Whatever the implication, one thing remains certain, Pontypool is an intelligent and provocative horror that doesn’t for one second fail to entertain or engage its audience. Highly recommended. Rating:8/10