Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bruce is Back - Get Ready for Pontypool

Bruce McDonald
is a director who has paid his dues and then some.
He gave us Highway 61 and Hard Core Logo.
He's also directed a lot of TV, everything from "Ready or Not" to "Lexx." In short he's a working Canadian filmmaker.

I had a chance to interview him a while back during "Home Movie Day". If I recall he was presenting some of his own Super 8 films. Anyone who has seen a McDonald film knows he's in love with the medium, in all its many formats. Digital, super8, black and white...heck I'm sure he tried pixelvision at some point.

For a while now it seemed his love of processing film, mutating it, tranforming it one way or another seemed to get the best of him. The stories were smothered in effects.

Well forget all that. Pontypool is a return to form. It's a great little post-modern take on the zombie genre. A whip smart thrill ride that doesn't have gore for brains.

In the small Ontario town of Pontypool strange things are happening. We are in the basement of an old church, converted into an AM Radio station. It's the last stop on the line for once great radio star Grant Mazzy. Now it's Mazzy in the Morning with a mix of small town traffic and gossip. He's an ol' school talk radio jock butting heads with his producer Sydney who doesn't think the Howard Stern shtick cuts it in the sticks.

But then, Ken the eye in the sky, the traffic man who pretends to be flying a chopper while really parking his car on a big hill, phones in a report. An explosion? A riot. A mob. Terrible things are happening. Reports filter in as the 3 person crew in the radio station try to get a handle on the situation. Soon the picture shifts from creepy to downright disturbing.

What I love (yes I said love) about this movie is the economy of story used here. Just about everything you see and hear takes place in the radio station. Like an old radio drama itself, the audio drives the story, your mind fills in the blanks. As the situation worsens we see little of the chaos outside, but the sounds, those shrieking sounds are enough.

It's an old trick, but it works. And then there's the source of the chaos.


I wont spill it all, but what makes this zombie movie different is the idea, the seed. Something is turning people into animals, echo boxes, little babies and worse. And that something seems to be spreading with Words. It's conceptual conception. A virus of the mind, not germs and cells. If you've read The Raw Shark Texts, you might have a handle on the kind of metaphorical mind games author Tony Burgess is playing around with.

Have you ever stopped to look at a word, and once you look at it, or say it you realize just how strange it is? The longer you look the less sense it makes. That's what happens here, the fragility of our language is the link, or possibly the source. Language is cracking, failing... but what do you do when calling for help, might let the bogeyman inside?

Lots of meat to chew on in this one. Great performances. Stephane McHattie is a ball as Mazzy, a worthy addition to the long line of DJs on film. (Little bit of Bruce there, under Mazzy's cowboy hat I think.)

Coming to Canada in March and the U.S. later this spring.
Be sure to catch this one if you can.


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