It comes as no surprise that film viewers nowadays have come to have big expectations when it comes to movies. Not all movies have the ability to both rattle and please the mind of an audience. This high expectation in films can be attributed to the audiences perceived standards when it comes to films, genres, and its plots. Take for example a slasher film. Upon knowing that the film is a horror, thriller about a potential murderer, one would automatically expect the typical format and often criticize the movie if it doesn’t live up to the standards set by popular movies of the same plot and genre.
Fortunate enough, Pontypool (2009) was able to go beyond common standards of the zombie and horror format and make more of a high-art horror film.
Pontypool is about a disgraced DJ, Grant Mazzy, who works for a radio company in the small town of Pontypool alongside producers Laura Ann and Sydney. While trying to put on the best morning show he can possibly do, a report of a riot at a doctor’s clinic causes a frenzy when they soon find out that majority of the population has turned into insane “zombies” and are headed to the radio station. They then find out that the use of words are the cause of the attacks. It is the first time for me to hear about this sort of plot. I mean where will you ever see that an infection has caused the use of words to be the possible deaths of us. This is exactly what makes Pontypool a high-art horror film.
According to the reading of Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture,” high-art is the the use of indirect images. It also requires a more in depth analysis on metaphoric images shown in the movie to be properly understood. To better understand the context of Pontypool and the message it is trying to showcase, one must first analyze and understand the virus in the movie.
The film showed that language is a virus. As humans, our form of interaction is through communication. We thrive on the communicable nature of our words. Imagine having these same words that are used for communication be the sole reason for our own demise. Language carries with it the seeds of human destruction. This could be a metaphoric image of our current society, most especially towards media. Nothing we hear and nothing we know is really “true.” Media is staged and every person is forced to believe it. Take for example Ken Loney. Everyone in pontypool believes that he is up in the sky reporting on every breaking news story. What media covers is that he is just going around town in his own car looking for any news he could find.We take so much of what the media offers us at face value that we tend not to use the common sense given to us to see the facts. Media like language manipulate us to thinking of one thing whereas it means the complete opposite.
Another indirect image used in the film is the actual setting of the movie. The decision for the entire film to be confined in a basement radio station was a creative and metaphoric choice made. It gives an effect which forces us to focus exclusively on the films unique selling proposition: verbal virus. Even the events of when the incident started to happen. The audience weren’t given an exact image of the events. The audience is tasked to figure out what is happening and, given the vagueness of the reporting of Ken Loney, what might happen next.
The average viewer would probably not try and understand anything that is happening; one can safely say that even after watching the movie, people are not given the whole picture as to what the film is trying to say. This is exactly what high-art is saying in that analysis is a must in order to comprehend the images that are shown by the film. We always tend to downcast films that are creative in nature; films that contain numerous metaphors and symbolisms. But these high-art films pushes us to actually understand what we are watching. More the just a movie, high-art symbolizes, more often than not, everyday struggles, problems, and the ability of man.
All in all, films like Pontypool require a higher level of understanding to actually figure out and understand the purpose of the plot of the film. Films like these pushes us to think. Once we do try and figure out on our own how relevant and important some of these imagery are, to the society and even to ourselves, we tend to enjoy the film even more.
Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)