Pontypool of Words

Zombie movies have always been scientific in nature. Infections are of course biological and this is the center of a lot of horror films that have zombies as their subject. We have films like World War Z, Land of the Dead, Quarantine, Dawn of the Dead, and even the series, The Walking Dead. These films are usually considered low art compared to other movies that requires a deeper understanding of things.

In the article written by Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture”, she discusses high art and low art. High art, according to Hawkins, in film is using indirect images. In contrast to that, low art is using direct messages and what is usual to portray something directly. High art, then, uses a lot of metaphors to portray a message in films. To be understood properly, it requires an in-depth analysis unlike that of low art which just hands you the message of the film as it is shown. Though, whether a film is a form of high art of low art depends on its viewers. The decision is up to the viewers given that it is relative to how they see the film or how they understand the plot of the movie. As mentioned in the report of the group in our class, films then should not be judged based on the views of a film, the cast chosen, the ratings online, or the person who directed it. The viewers are the ones who have a say on the film, though this is dependent on their culture and thus, depends on their society and context as well. It is also important to note that while viewers do have culture as a basis to a lot of decisions, culture still changes several times.

Though is it possible for a genre like horror deemed as low art to achieve the method of high art? In the context of the film Pontypool, the creators were actually able to do both low art and high art in this one. The film was directed by Bruce McDonald and initially released in May 29, 2009. The film revolves around Grant Mazzy played by Stephen McHattie, and Sydney Briar played by Lisa Houle in the setting of their small radio station. The film already has an odd beginning and as the story progresses, the news story they are try to cover progresses as well. They come to find out that there has been a zombie outbreak caused by the infected language and thus, they get trapped in the radio station trying to figure out what to do next. In my opinion, the suspense in the film could not keep me still while watching. There was a feeling of uneasiness as their reporter out in the field, Ken Loney, updates Grant and Sydney on what he sees outside. Though, I would still say that the film in its entirety is rather odd, but exciting.

From its genre to what it is about, the film demonstrates low art. The horror genre in itself is already considered low art. The fact that it is about zombies also emphasizes more how the movie can be depicted as low art. The film uses usual subjects or plots in order to scare its viewers. Though, this use of the concept of zombies is only a tool used to complement what really is the monster of the film. This is where Pontypool also becomes a form of high art.

As discussed in the article by Hawkins, high art uses indirect images. This could be seen in the movie in its entirety as the viewers never actually see what happens outside the radio station which is a big chunk of the storyline of the film. The viewers are trapped along with Grant Mazzy and Sydney Briar in the radio station and only “sees” what happens through the reports of Ken Loney who is outside and in the actual scene of the zombie outbreak. Thus, the film uses language as an indirect way of depicted most of the plot points of Pontypool. The viewers are left to imagine and the create the picture of what they are hearing from the reports being sent to station. It is the viewers who visualize most of what happens. High art also makes use of metaphors and this requires in-depth analysis emphasizing again how it is the viewers who visualize and creates the picture of what they are hearing. Viewers need some sort of level of understanding in order to piece together the message of the film. In addition, the film involves zombies. These zombies, contrary to the usual infected zombies, are infected by language. They are, in the film, literally infected by the English speaking language. The use of language, what people use to communicate, as a virus also hints at a metaphor or the message being sent by the film.

The film entirely is nothing like any of the other films in class. I am still amazed by the fact that here in this film, language was used as a virus. In my opinion, that is smart and will really evoke fear given that language is used by everybody, every minute, and every day. In addition to that, I feel that also not knowing what actually happened outside already gave viewers the fear of the unknown. Imagine having that zombie outbreak caused by language? How would you escape knowing that the you don’t know which words are actually infected?

Source: 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).




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