Most of my thoughts after watching Pontypool (2008) was trying to make sense of it. What just happened, I wonder. I was sure that it was a zombie movie, but it was made to be that way even without showing so much gore that zombie movies usually have. There was not even the usual biting or getting infected by an apparent disease or something. That was what I liked about Pontypool, though. Even if it was kind of hard to get, it was a pretty good movie. It was not as horrifying and bloody as the other horror films we have watched, but it was a really nice version of the horror genre! It was intelligently made, especially because what caused the distress here were the “heroes” Grant Mazzy (played by Stephen McHattie) and Sydney Briar (played by Lisa Houle). Horror movies usually are one dimensional, with a monster or a certain situation causing the conflict. Here, Grant and Sydney could have been making the situation worse.
Pontypool had the themes of a classic zombie movie with a modern twist. Although with a slow pacing, it was also interesting how the rising action and the action was all presented by a phone call from one of Grant and Sydney’s work partners. Indirect images were used the entire movie such that while the events happened outside the main setting, the viewers were left to visualize and create for themselves what was happening outside. In other words, the movie was left to the viewers to make sense of. Which is why for me, it is an intelligent movie: the audience would have to make an analysis of metaphoric images and their dialogues and everything else in the movie to know what is going on, the conflict, the solution, etcetera instead of merely presenting these immediately. It was generally confusing, so the average viewer would need a certain level of analysis to understand the film. But while this was intense enough, I would just like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Mendez (played by Hrant Alianak) for being a comic relief, despite his short time on screen. Thank you Dr. Mendez.
In line with that, I thought it was very profound that the “virus” needed to be a zombie in the movie was language. The movie started out with just the voice of Mazzy talking and spewing out words, showing soundwaves from his local broadcast. His deep, raspy voice put up an eerie feel to the film and this persisted throughout. Language as the virus got me thinking more about what consequences our words can evoke, such as creating zombies. (kidding!) But the modern twist in this zombie movie was that language was the virus; very unconventional. The characters could “kill” the monster or the zombies through their own voices. This could be parallel with the idea that “words can hurt” or that they meant so much more to other people than you think it did for you. We put ourselves in unfavorable situations with our mouths sometimes and the best way to deal with them is to sometimes shut up.
This movie was all sorts of creative, but by the end of the movie it got really hard to understand. Especially with the post-credits scene, where there was like a whole new movie. It seemed completely unrelated to what had transpired in Pontypool except that Grant and Sydney were there… with new names. What is happening, I wonder once again. For me, it was kind of what the whole movie was all about: it has some sense but it also does not. Like the cure for being a zombie, that is un-learning the meaning of a word that triggered you, the post-credits scene kind of like helps you reach that conclusion.
According to Hawkins, for a film to be considered high art or low art is really up to its audience. We can’t really trust a movie’s ratings, reviews, how much it profited, or even the people who made it, to tell us if it would be high art or if the movie is going to be good. We have to see for ourselves and judge it for ourselves. For me, what makes a movie high art is that it will be able to stir up so many emotions and gets people to invest so much in it, including discourse and analyses. Pontypool just made me do that. I kept telling my friends about it because it was just one of a kind and well made. Pontypool is another high art on my movie list that made me think and rave about it.
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).