Netflix Pick: Pontypool

As you are probably aware, today is not just any Tuesday. Today is Valentine’s Day. I could very easily have found some sappy, romantic, love-conquers-all drama or inane rom-com, but that wouldn’t be very Wrecked. Instead, my weekly Netflix Pick is an exercise in counter-programming. How about a movie that simply takes place on Valentine’s Day, but in place of cards, chocolates, and kissing in the rain is a small-town zombie outbreak? Got your attention? Read on after the jump.

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“Pontypool” follows morning radio shock-jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on a particularly cold and snowy Valentine’s Day. On his way to work in the small Canadian town of Pontypool, Mazzy has a strange encounter with a woman on the side of the road that leaves him a bit confused. As the morning goes on, reports of escalating strangeness begin coming in on the wire, throwing Grant, his producer (Lisa Houle), and the young engineer (Georgina Reilly) into a frenzy trying to keep up with the story as it develops. The situation turns violent, and begins exhibiting the telltale signs of a zombie outbreak.

Naturally, it's never explicitly labeled as such, but I feel that society has been training us all to know it when we see it.

To be absolutely fair to the more bloodthirsty of you, this is not your run-of-the-mill zombie film. There’s a decided lack of “SHOOT FOR THE HEAD” and a pretty low quantity of violence in general. If you’re itching for gore and striking visuals of zombie hordes, this is not going to satisfy your hungry brain meats. The tone of this film is much more understated, exploring the unfolding events through the slow burn of an outside perspective. The folks in the studio receive calls about what’s happening and hear emergency broadcasts as the outbreak happens in the nearby town. It’s not a roller coaster thrill ride. It’s a steady crescendo of tension and panic that takes its time getting where it’s going, and I loved every minute of it.

We often see movies about the zombie apocalypse that are all about the people right smack dab in the middle of all the action. In fact, that’s pretty much every zombie movie. This one tells a different story. It tells the story of the people that are just on the edge of the front line; the people that feel it is their responsibility to tell the rest of the world what’s happening. It’s a novel perspective, and it makes for some very tense moments full of uncertainty and carefully executed suspense. The zombie outbreak may be a familiar setting for many of us, but this particular outbreak occurs in a way that is fresh and exciting, leaving plenty of mystery for even the most seasoned fan of zombie films.

I would imagine that without the cowboy hat, his voice wouldn't be nearly as comforting.

When films take place primarily in a single location, their success depends largely on the charisma of the cast and the quality of the script. Both of these elements are quite strong in “Pontypool,” particularly the performance of Stephen McHattie. His voice is built for radio, and he delivers his on-air lines with a level of velvety smoothness that can make anything sound fantastic. The script, written by Tony Burgess and based on his own novel, makes great use of the setting. The studio is the perfect place to explore the themes that Burgess is going after, and it never feels at all limiting or gimmicky. It’s a tense environment throughout, and serves the story well.

It may not be the zombie-slaying gorefest many prefer, but “Pontypool” is a smart film that utilizes its somewhat absurd premise to examine some thematic ideas that have an unfortunately timeless relevance. It’s a slow build, but it does go somewhere while managing to be tense and dramatic throughout. If you’re a fan of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and are itching for more character-driven zombie goodness, this film is a wonderful example of doing a lot with minimal resources.

Plus it’s Valentine’s Day. Nothing says “I love you” like Canadian zombies. Right?

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About Darren Orsetti
Amateur screenwriter. Amateur blogger. Life-long haver of skewed priorities.

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