Language is a Virus: Pontypool

I saw this guy on the train And he seemed to gave gotten stuck In one of those abstract trances. And he was going: "Ugh...Ugh...Ugh..." And Fred said: "I think he's in some kind of pain. I think it's a pain cry." And I said: "Pain cry? Then language is a virus."  
Laurie Anderson - Language is a Virus

I have been searching high and low for Pontypool for months.  Netflix (as of this posting) is not carrying it.  My one surviving Mom and Pop video store did not have it.  And, of course, that crappy  Redbox, that sits like the monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey, in my local supermarket does not offer it.

Happily, the Showtime Network was kind enough to be running Pontypool this month.  So, through the magic of  DVR, I was able to record the show while it was playing this very morning and then view it over dinner tonight.

Hooray for technology, sez I.

Based on the novel, Pontypool Changes Everything, Pontypool is a claustrophobic meditation on the power of language and it's ability to create confusion and hatred, and to spread that confusion and hatred like a virus.  And in a world of Rush Limbaughs and Matt Savages the point of this film is well taken.

Cleverly sold as a zombie flick, Pontypool, tells the tale of a ruined radio shock jock doing time in a Canadian back water's local station.  The DJ (Grant Mazzy played by Stephen McHattie) is a depressed, self destructive character who seems to be on a personal downward spiral. But he has one redeeming quality; his love of language.  This is witnessed in the film's opening moments when he quotes Norman Mailer's theory of words and coincidences and how they combine after a tragedy to  make some sort of strange sense.

When disturbing reports come into the station about riots and murders occurring in and around town, Mazzy and his crew of two (Sydney Briar played by Lisa Houle and Laurel-Ann played by Georgina Reilly) must try to determine if they are the subject of some sort of elaborate hoax, or if they are truly in the midst of some sort of critical Canadian mass hysteria. Confusing matters further is the fact that no reports of any disturbances are coming over any of the news wires fed into the station.  It's not until a field reporter calls in with an eye witness that the trio realize they are in some serious trouble.
As the story progresses, and it becomes obvious that the locals have gone all George-Romero, Pontypool revs up the blood and gore a bit, before it turns around and throws an  ice cold bucket of WHAT-THE-FUCK at the viewer.  How did this happen?  What is causing this?  The answer is both brilliant and confounding (as well as terribly devious).   Don't worry, I will not spoil this for you.

In the end, Pontypool, in my humble opinion, is one of the most thought provoking films to come along in some time.  While it may be all dressed up like a horror movie, there is something much deeper going on here; from the allusions to the war on terror (watch for the singing group earlier in the film all dressed up like Osama bin Laden and friends) to the seemingly not so subtle attack on the way the mass media often manufactures stories... Pontypool is the Tower of Babel and it's just come crumbling down on our heads. 


Anonymous said...

I caught this on Showtime as well. Thanks be to jeebus for premium cable sometimes.

My only gripe is the over emoting doctor who comes on the air to explain everything. I felt like he took a little bit of 'air' out of the film by OVERLY explaining everything instead of letting the audience figure it out for themselves.

Regardless, this is a damn fine film for the reasons you mentioned. Good stuff Pax.

Pax Romano said...

Thanks POT. I thought the Doctor was a bit of comic relief. Oh yeah, over the top, but for me his character worked.

All in all a terrific film.

Matt-suzaka said...

I too agree about the doctor and his exposition filled scenes, but it did not hurt the film for me at all either. I fucking loved Pontypool, and I watched a "copy" of it a while back really late at night - like when I should be sleeping - and I couldn't have been more captivated by a film for that first hour.

I am in the middle of reading the novel right now, and it is fantastic so far, and interestingly enough, this portion of the story in only a small one in the book.

Anyway, glad you dug it, Pax, and I wish I had known you were looking for it, I would totally have sent you my copy.

Jack Veasey said...

Another reason to wish I still got Showtime. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one. It sounds wonderful.

deadlydolls said...

Great review. I found my copy at the library but haven't yet written about it because I don't feel smart enough to have fully gotten it on first viewing. I absolutely loved this movie though!

Sarah said...

If I remember correctly, Pontypool is an IFC Films-distributed film. IFC has a deal with Blockbuster of all places that Blockbuster will receive all DVD releases to rent first. This is how I saw Pontypool, Dead Snow, and I Sell the Dead last December/January. The local indie video store didn't get I Sell the Dead and Dead Snow until March or April.

But yeah, Pontypool is awesome. Have you seen Dead Air? It came out a year or two before Pontypool and it's apparently been running cable recently as well. It has a similar plot, although I get the feeling the linguistics angle is not there. It's been in my Netflix queue for awhile.

Friend Mouse said...

Poor little soon-to-oblivion Blockbuster Online has it. That's how I saw it, a month or so ago. Great little flick - scary and disconcerting.

I Like Horror Movies said...

A fantastic little film, I actually everything up to the actually zombie carnage more than I did the true horror elements. Mazzy is absolutely fantastic!