In the recent years, several zombie films have been featured in the big screen such as: Train to Busan, Zombieland, World War Z, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil, and the like. Most of them had action-packed scenes, different locations because they wanted to get away from all the zombies, and hopefully find a cure. However, the 2008 Canadian horror film directed by Bruce McDonald, Pontypool, has a slightly different take on the way one films a zombie movie.
Pontypool is a strange one. The story follows mainly two people, Grant Mazzy who is a former shock jock and now a radio announcer, and Sydney Briar, the station manager. The whole setting of the movie is in the radio station, it never ventured outside. The only glimpse the viewers ever had of the area outside the station is the loudspeaker attached to the wall outside of the radio station, and the opening scene where a woman that slammed her hand on Grant’s car door and repeatedly said “blood”.
Aside from having one setting, this movie did not have any action-packed scenes, the protagonists always ran away and hid from the zombies which I think is very realistic. I am sure that if we had a zombie outbreak I would run away and hide because it will most likely be the first thing a person would do when stuck in a basement (the radio station is in the basement). The most action the audience got was when the zombies were attacking the sound booth where Grant, Sydney, and Dr. Mendez kept themselves in as to not fall victim.
This all started when Ken, the helicopter reporter of the station, calls in to report a riot outside of Dr. Mendez’s office in Pontypool. Since it a radio station, Ken can only describe the chaos that was happening. This is the only way the audience can know what is happening outside of the station. He has described the numerous deaths, the dangerous and gruesome situation they are all in, and most importantly he was the one that gave Grant and Sydney crucial information about this virus that transforms a person into a flesh-eating zombie. Sadly, Ken succumbs to the virus.
The concept of trapping the viewers in the radio station with Grant and Sydney is actually brilliant. This lets the viewers imagine for themselves what happens outside while confined in a somewhat safe territory. The scariest of them all is the unknown, and this is exactly what McDonald did. However, this horror of the unknown is not fast to sink in to viewers especially if they are used to the jump-scare kind of horror, it takes time and a bit of time for the viewer to think of this idea. It also lets the audience feel that they are in the same boat as the character, somewhat like they are in there with them, experiencing what the characters are experiencing, only knowing what the characters know, and not the usual all-knowing view the audience has.
What is even better than the said points is the concept of the monster in the film: the virus that infects through language. If this idea were to happen in the real world, it would be devastating. The notion of making the mode of infection the language almost the whole world speaks and understands is so unique that it is terrifying because talking is such a common thing humans do. This could also symbolize how important words and understanding these words are in our lives. As a world with diverse cultures, words may not mean the same thing to another culture but somehow people could still understand because of the emotions that come with these words. It is also crucial to remember that words, said meaninglessly and blindly, could hurt another person because one can never know how important their words weigh on someone else’s life.
With the use of language, one setting, and the audience’s imagination Pontypool is definitely a film of the high arts. This statement can be verified from reading Joan Hawkins’s article, “Sleaze mania, Euro-trash and high art”. At the end of the film, the audience is left feeling confused which is completely normal as you will need to analyze these metaphorical concepts used in the film; only then will you be able to appreciate the art used in filming, writing, and producing the film.
As with making art such as painting and dancing, the artists makes a new meaning to the such art which is what Grant has done to find the cure. This is seen in the scene when Sydney starts getting infected with the word “kill” as she was severely affected by killing a girl wherein Grant confused her brain with associating kill with “kiss” therefore, killing the virus and curing her.
All these brilliant pieces are actually tied with “low art” which is the usual and conventional ways to produce fear in the viewers such as blood and gore which is very present in the radio station when all the zombies heard of their voices through the loudspeaker.
Overall, Pontypool is a mixture of low art and high art to satisfy both kinds of people. It a movie one can watch without analyzing anything and still be satisfied. If one prefers a more intellectual course for the film, then Pontypool could also fulfill the active mind. It is a film that could get the best of both worlds.
Hawkins, Joan. Sleaze mania, Euro-trash, and high art. N.p.: Horror, The Film Reader, 2002. PDF.