Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pontypool (Canada, 2008)

Oh, God. You're gonna eat me soon, aren't you?
Sydney Briar

Whereas the French philosopher Georges Bataille, the author of the excellent children’s book The Story of the Eye (1928) tended to argue that communication is a contagion, it was that junky (as in addicted, not in regard to quality) US American writer William S. Burroughs who posited "Language is a virus from outer space." Over the years, as it typical of modern culture, a truncation of the quote became famous, famous enough to have an arty pop song based on it, Laurie Anderson's nifty ditty Language is a Virus. Somewhere along the line, the Canadian novelist Tony Burgess mutated the idea into a storyline and came up with the novel Pontypool Changes Everything, telling a tale in which "[a] virus had hid silently for decades up in the roofs of adjectives, its little paws growing sensitive, first to the modifications performed there; then, sensing something more concrete pulling at a distance, the virus jumped into paradigms." And then, more than a decade after his book did not make waves outside of Canada, Mr Burgess adapted his tale for a film made by the Canadian non-cult cult director Bruce McDonald, the man behind a variety of non-interesting episodes to non-interesting television shows, a few interesting cult films such as Highway 61 (1991 / trailer) or Hard Core Logo (1996 / trailer), artsy-fartsy stuff like The Tracey Fragments (2007 / trailer), and an occasional turkey of unbelievable proportions like Picture Claire (2001 / trailer). Released in 2008 under the somewhat simplified title of Pontypool, the flick did well enough that it is supposedly slated for a sequel in circa 2012, tentatively entitled Pontypool Changes.

It's not the end of the world, it's just the end of the day.
Grant Mazzy

In McDonald’s semi-horror film, language is less the virus than it is infected by a virus, a virus that does not originate from outer space but from some two-bit backwoods Ontario town called Pontypool. Shock-jock Grant Mazzy (played by Meg Foster's ex-husband Stephen McHattie, an unfamiliar face of films such as Watchmen [2009 / trailer], The Covenant [2006 / trailer] and Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills [1997 / trailer]), degraded by some past misdeed from big-city radio to the netherworld of backwoods broadcasting, is on his way to his morning shift at CLSY, a tiny radio station located in the basement of the local Pontypool church, when, amidst a swirling blizzard, he is greeted by the visitation of a mysterious, incomprehensibly babbling woman (Laura Nordin) that taps at his car window and then backs away into the white whirlpool of falling snow. Later, at work and on air, between his verbal faux pas, slugs of whiskey, and arguments with his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), the daily reports of lost cats and school bus cancellations give way to ever-more reports of homicidal, out-of-control and senselessly gibberishing crowds marauding through the town. But even as the BBC calls to find the truth from the uninformed center of events, no official reports are on the national news wires — other than a mysterious danger warning in French found by the radio station’s girl Friday Laurel-Ann Drummond (the pretty Georgina Reilly) that ends with the advice of not translating the statement. Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) climbs through the window seeking safety soon after, revealing that the delusional madness of the crowd is the result of a virus conveyed by the English language and that one must more or less shut up or die. The three are forced to take refuge in the soundproof radio booth after Laurel-Ann becomes infected and the church is attacked by a deranged crowd — is there any hope of survival?

We're not talking, I'm drunk. This is how my last relationship ended.
Sydney Briar

Pontypool has all the trappings of a low budget horror film — small cast, few locations — but despite one death scene of explosive and bloody expectoration, the film is less a true blue, blood and guts muncher or horror film than it is a diverting and mildly interesting "Kammerspiel" which, dressed in gossamer neo-zombie accouterments, plays with language and the human social interactions. Sydney's incidental statements regarding the town's inhabitants and secrets are often more interesting than the events of supposed horror, but for that, the film still manages to effectively reflect the increasing dread and fear that arises when caught within a mysterious situation in which everything outside is falling apart for no visibly apparent reason. The film conveys the feeling that all those involved were less interested in making an effective horror film than they were in simply making something different. In that, they succeeded — but don’t expect to be scared by it.

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