Zombie movies are my thing, so I’m very particular with what a zombie movie brings to the over-saturated table. Ironically, I really like sticking to the conventional: frenzied masses banging on your walls, frantically trying to eat you while you hide out in some enclosed space with improvised weapons of some sort. Pontypool isn’t like that. It’s definitely no Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days later, which I grew up watching, but I like it. On the one hand, I really appreciate the originality of the twist to the zombie subgenre of horror. Instead of a lab experiment gone bad, a biochemical hazard spreading unintentionally, or even alien invasion that feeds on the human brain and turns us into, well, mindless zombies, the film does something, I believe, no one expected. They started a whole new strain of zombies; one that is infected through words. This feat, by itself, is commendable. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for zombie movies and anything that builds up paranoia, so I’m a little biased when it comes to these things. But, I do realize that whether or not their fresh take on the zombie apocalypse worked is beside the point. The real takeaway from this is its original concept.
I want to zero in on the mode of transmission of the zombie virus: language. When Dr. Mendez first explained how people get infected, my initial reaction was: “Wow, this is so meta.” This almost unfathomable concept of Pontypool is what thrusts the film into the subgenre of film called paracinema. In Joan Hawkins’ “Sleaze mania, Euro-trash, and high art: The place of European art films in American low culture,” she describes paracinematic culture as an avenue to appreciate “all forms of cinematic trash.” Consumers of paracinema can either active their film reading strategies or opt to, as pointed out in class, “turn off” their brains and watch the film exclusively for its aesthetic purposes. It is important to note, however, that one should not be too closed minded with B-movies because as Hawkins points out, “low budget horror can sometimes be sublime.” The same goes for high-art films in which, graphic scenes such as, say, slicing a body in half, can be metaphorically significant, as well as, physical. This means that a scene can be profound and aesthetically satisfying at the same time.
So what exactly is Pontypool trying to say? If not, for just a mere twist on the zombie genre, I believe it dwells into a commentary on “responsible journalism.” This theme may not be so subtle as it explicitly features a sly veteran BBC reporter. However, if we look at the movie as a whole, it features how language, primarily news, can be viral. And this virus, presumably untrue, twisted and manipulated by irresponsible journalists, can lead masses into a zombie-like state. And while in this trance of mindlessness, the only thing that resounds and matters to them is the “news” that they heard.
Although different to conventional zombies, in which the dead is reanimated and goes into a frenzy, the zombies in this film, in my opinion, was effective. I think this film attempts to transcend the barriers of zombie movies, and perhaps even of the horror genre itself. For most of the film, the audience relies on sounds, which to me might be quite frustrating and ungratifying. But the film uses this feat strategically and ingeniously since it goes really well with the theme of language as a disease. The fact that a zombie movie took place in a small radio booth is also commendable.
To be honest, it is as if Pontypool is trying to insult me; giving me none of my expectations from a zombie movie. There was blood, yes, but not enough blood for my taste. There was no graphic zombie eating session, or none that stuck to me. There was no high-paced, adrenaline-driven chase where the characters try to outrun a mob of zombies. There were no guns; no weapons of any sort. There wasn’t even enough time to let the zombie virus take over the world since the movie all happened in one day. The fact that the source of the virus is forgivable. As I enumerate all these things, I try to convince myself that this movie should fail in my book, precisely because it’s a zombie movie that didn’t give me anything I wanted. But that’s the main reason why I appreciate this movie so much. I’m even going to say that it might be one my favorite zombie movies so far. It’s definitely different, but as mentioned earlier, it’s a different kind of good. The acting was good, the theme was even better and the way it tries to change the game for zombie movies paid off. I would definitely recommend the film to my peers.