Pontypool (2009), for me, is one of the three best films I’ve had the pleasure of viewing so far in class. Along with It Follows and Evil Dead, this film was in a class of its own when it came to entertaining and creative horror films. Not only did it have a unique and new concept, but it had superb acting.
It redefined the flat, zombie concept and turned it into something that had never been done before. When you tell somebody that a horror movie is about zombies, they would always come to expect something like The Walking Dead: survive at whatever cost and blow some zombie brains up. Pontypool was the exact polar opposite of this concept, as there was no brain-blowing whatsoever. The only brains that were blown throughout the film were those of the audience. Honestly, to this day, I get confused whenever I try to analyze what happened throughout the film.
The basic premise of the film is that there was an infection that had been going around and transmitted through the use of a specific set of words. The only cure for this was not the usual antidote that had to be injected into a person, but through the changing of the meaning of the word. It is indeed somewhat similar to the use of an antidote in that it is a remedy, but one would never think of such an out-of-the-box virus and cure.
This is what sets Pontypool apart from other zombie, and even normal horror films. It has such a deep use of metaphors, symbolisms, and images throughout that require such an analysis and looking-back from the audience in order to completely comprehend. It doesn’t just give you the puzzle pieces for you to put together. What the movie does is give you a goal of putting a puzzle together and creating your own unique puzzle pieces in order to reach that desired goal. This is what Pontypool is: it is a form of high-art horror that gives the audience freedom to come up with their own unique conclusions.
High-art is, according to Joan Hawkins’ essay entitled, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture,” the use of indirect images all throughout a horror film, as well as a required analysis of metaphoric images to be understood.
First off, the whole movie is set in a radio station and all the events of the movie are merely narrated to the characters from the outside. Throughout the film, we have Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) following the events as an “eye in the sky,” later figured to be a guy in a car driving around town for his information, telling the main characters of the events that are happening. The audience is never given an exact image of what is happening; we are tasked to aim and try to not only visualize what is happening, but figure out what is happening. The audience, throughout the film, is never in the know, just like protagonists Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle).
Second, these images require an interpretation from the audience in order to comprehend everything that is happening. An example of this is when there was a French person relaying messages into the booth stating that certain love languages cannot be said to family members, or when people would start muttering and repeating words. From the very beginning, this does not make any sense whatsoever. I could remember myself being utterly confused at the former. I would literally say different expletives in my head whenever these “clues” were relayed to the audience. A high art film such as Pontypool requires an analysis in order to comprehend the images shown by the film.
It is only towards the end that the whole virus – and cure – is discovered. To no one’s surprise, it was discovered the same time as the main characters in the film when Grant and Sydney would try to change the meaning of the words they were saying in order to disinfect themselves of the virus.
In general, one definitely cannot say that a film like Pontypool is a low art film precisely because of the intricacy of the plot and number of images displayed throughout. As compared to the basic horror show The Walking Dead, which requires little-to-no brain power to go through, films such as Pontypool are highly artistic and require comprehension. In the former, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy some gory zombie killing action. In the latter, you are required to put your brain to work to follow and understand the film.
Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.