Sunday, 4 July 2010

Pontypool

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie, the original Nite Owl in Watchmen, and veteran of every TV fantasy series from Fringe to Beauty and the Beast) is an unhappy DJ whose day in Pontypool – the village in Canada, rather than the town in Wales – begins with an eerie encounter: an incoherent woman at a stop sign who vanishes into the snow. Once Mazzy’s in his booth, a story breaks: three people held hostage in a fishing hut, who escape after police intervention. By ten o’clock the whole town is going crazy: mobs roam the streets chanting odd slogans. The infection is spreading, but how?

Pontypool is reminiscent of Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds; we hear snatches of what’s happening at second hand, by phone, radio message and television report.

Although it’s adapted from a novel (Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess), it’s not a surprise that there was also a radio play, included here exclusively on Blu-Ray. But the result is not uncinematic: it looks like a movie, feels like a movie, and is extremely tense; lacking our usual omniscience, we share the growing fear of Mazzy and his producers.

Though it’s been compared to John Carpenter’s The Fog, I think another comparison is even more apt: with its fatalistic humour, excellent performances, even its twist ending (watch this one through to the end of the credits), and most of all in the way it tests the character of its protagonists, Pontypool captures the spirit of The Twilight Zone at its very best.

Pontypool, Bruce McDonald (dir.), Canada, 93 mins.

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