Pontypool: Film and language

Pontypool (2009) is perhaps, the most intelligent horror film that was shown in class. Since it was the most intelligently made film, it was also the hardest movie to understand. However, despite the incomprehensibility, it was still very much enjoyable because it played on symbolism, and it tackles the complexities of language, with a twist.

The setting of Pontypool is in a news radio station in the far side of town. The characters owned the radio station and they were its very own broadcasters. Interestingly enough, the main problem in the horror film is a kind of zombie virus being transmitted through some infected words in the English language. Furthermore, unlike May (2002) which was a character movie, it was hard to root for or even understand the characters in Pontypool even if they kept on talking.

Pontypool is a film that was not made for mass consumption. It does not consist of the typical character tropes and the usual storyline followed by the horror movies that satisfy the ordinary audiences’ palette, unlike in horror films such as the Evil Dead (2013). It requires a high level of comprehension in order to catch the meaning of certain images being thrown around in the film.

That being said, Pontypool is a film that is considered to be bordering ‘high art.’ According to the report made in class, a movie is considered to be ‘high art’ if it is not ratings-based (unlike blockbuster hits), not based on who directed it (unlike auteurs like Wes Anderson and Steven Spielberg), and not based on actors (unlike most movies in Philippine cinema). It is based on the audiences’ culture and its main objective is to portray this culture and how it is practiced.

Pontypool is considered to be a ‘paracinematic film.’ This means that the “explicit manifesto of paracinematic culture is to valorize all forms of cinematic ‘trash’ whether such films have been either explicitly rejected or simple ignored by legitimate film culture” (Hawkins, 2002, p. 126). In simpler terms, it means being able to bridge the elements of both high and low art, successfully or not. For Pontypool, it was able to bridge these elements successfully. According to an article by Hawkins (2002), “paracinematic taste involves a reading strategy that renders the bad into the sublime, the deviant into the defamiliarized and in so doing, calls attention to the aesthetic aberrance and stylistic variety evident but routinely dismissed in the many subgenres of trash cinema” (p. 126-127). In the case of Pontypool, it was able to defamiliarize the English language and media. In communication theory, the media uses certain framing techniques when delivering news. It makes the media so powerful because it does not just frame stories, it also helps shape the viewpoints and perspectives of people.

At first glance, Pontypool does not seem like a horror movie at all because it keeps the audience waiting for the most terrible things to happen. This also brings into question as to whether or not, horror movies can legitimately be considered art films as well. However, as mentioned earlier, Pontypool is able to bridge the elements of both high and low art, although for me, it was hard to see the elements of horror in the film because of its play on semiotics. The most obvious element of horror in the film is the use of zombies and a bit of blood. Nevertheless, the feeling of frustration compels the audience to keep on watching the film because the characters keep on using terms of endearment which were infected by the virus.

Furthermore, the apocalyptic zombie aspect of Pontypool is a result of the effect of the virus of the supposedly infected words of the English language. Once infected, the character loses himself or herself. It takes wit and presence of mind in order to figure out and fight against the virus. In the film, the radio was used to divert the attention of the zombies as well. Perhaps, the message that the film was trying to convey is to always be mindful of what the media presents to us, and the power of language.

Grant and Sydney survive the language apocalypse through role play and “kill is kiss.” The post-credits scene of the movie will probably leave the audience confused, but it’s interesting to note that Grant shushes Sydney before she is able to finish the word “baby” (terms of endearment were virus carriers in the film). Perhaps, this scene is trying to communicate to the audience that the language apocalypse is not yet over, and maybe, these characters are trying to tell the audience to “get out of here.”

Source: Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.

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