Pontypool is based on “Tony Rogers’ Pontypool Changes Everything”. The movie received numerous nominations.
The movie started with voice frequencies that narrated the story of a woman who lost her cat. There were no visuals. We were only accompanied by the hoarse voice of Grant Mazzy. My initial and final reactions of the film are the same: confusion. However, this adds to the art of ambiguity of the storyline of the film. Alongside with confusion, I also felt claustrophobic through the entirety of the film. The setting of the film was shot in an enclosed and small radio station. The fact that they are trapped inside because of the snowstorm also contributed to my uneasiness.
The characters were presented in a way that the audience will feel detachment and repulsion. However, this takes a turn at the end of the movie. The characters are also essential in fulfilling the irony of the movie. Grant Mazzy, who is basically a cliche character — macho, sleaze bag— was presented as a character with vulnerability as well. His hoarse and suave voice makes you want to tune in and listen to him. He often talks about issues that are controversial. Dr. Mendes, who is a cliche character as well, was brought into the narrative at the most convenient time to provide an explanation of the situation. After his purpose, he was turned into a zombie as well and was left in the recording room. Sydney Briar is also an interesting character because she is the typical uptight person that often keeps other characters intact. Paracinematic movies are like a bowl of stew where the ingredients, in this case it is the characters, just mix together perfectly. Each character is essential to creating the perfect blend of a not-so-zombie-apocalyptic film.
The virus in the movie is transmitted through hearing specific words of the English language. The virus of language, when taken literally, is manifested through destructive criticisms and harshness of words. The virus portrays a sad reality where words that are “rotten” like gossip are easily spread. The zombie-fication of the people, then, portrays the vulnerability and inability of human beings to be critical about “bad” words. The words that were infected were also not explicitly listed. It gives an implication that whenever we utter words, we sometimes do not know if what we said would hurt other people. We are all subjected to the misery of the uncertainty. Also, we can only know that we have hurt others when the damage has already worsened.
Hawkins discusses the difference between High Art and Low Art. Pontypool uses indirect images in which it allows for the audience to visualize and imagine the scenes outside of the setting. It also requires the audience to analyze and the metaphoric images used. The audience’s reception of the film determines if the film is high or low art. Additionally, it is also culture-based. For example, I mentioned that the virus in Pontypool is basically rumors that are easily spread from one person to another. This targets every culture in any society. “Even the trashiest films— demands [sic] a set of sophistic strategies… remarkably similar to the strategies employed by the cultural elite” (Hawkins, 2002). On the other hand, Pontypool becomes Low Art in some scenes that do not require in-depth analysis. For example, this movie had the typical zombie scenes like banging on doors and self-destruction that does not seem to hurt the “zombie.”
With this, Pontypool has been able to bridge low and high elements. This is usually successful in paracinematic films. Paracinematic films are not meant to be seamless. They are somewhat a parody of the real world. Sleaze mania also talks about never forgetting the cultural roots or context of the film while aspiring for high art. This relates to how Pontypool is categorized as a Horror Film while being able to reach out for a more pressing issue.
Lastly, paracinematic films often try to tackle the element of expectation. It often provides the unexpected. The post-credit scene of Pontypool showed the ambition of paracinema to break convention. As Hawkins puts it, “the pacing, the blatant disregard for the cause-erect logic of classical Hollywood cinema, the strategic use of discontinuous editing…” (2002). The movie provided an ending where it is too ambiguous that allows for a wide range of interpretation. So does it mean that Grant and Sydney were able to move away from the toxic zombified world? Did they go to Asia to start a new life? Did they give up on the cure?
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)