Many books are unfilmable. Works of literature that could not be rendered in reality or realised in the filmic medium. These are worlds and stories that can only be created in the readers imagination because to try to drag them kicking and screaming into the boring, mundane and limited realm of the physical and the actual would be to cheapen and ruin them.
This is thankfully not the case with Pontypool. On paper, as it was before in the shape of the award winning bestseller ‘Pontypool Changes Everything’ by Tony Burgess, it would seem this was a story that could only be told in print.
However with an amazing adaptation by the author himself, some pitch perfect performances and a lot of imagination this is one of the best horror films to be released for a long time.
Set in the titular town of the same name, a small no-where’s-ville in Canada, we follow what starts as a usual day in the life of radio shock-jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) as he disgruntly reads the local school bus cancellations and reports on lost cats all the while trying to inject controversy and excitement into the tepid talk radio station much to the dismay of his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) and her assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly).
But this is not a normal day. Something horrible is happening in this humdrum backwater.
Reports start to come in of bizarre acts of extreme violence, random horrific killings taking place. And mobs of townspeople develop strange speech patterns as if they are losing their minds. At first Mazzy thinks some elaborate hoax is being played on him, but as the outside world cascades into chaos he soon realises the threat is very real and that their radio station is the only one reporting on it.
Trapped, they stay on air in hopes of rescue even though they start to realise their broadcasts may in fact be spreading the virus to the outside world and themselves.
To say anymore about the film’s plot would be to spoil the enjoyment contained in discovering for yourself the hugely original story. Labelled as just another zombie movie Pontypool is far more and the creativity and depth in Burgess script and directors Bruce McDonald’s translation of it to the screen is very impressive.
The tension is tangible and the creeping, uneasy atmosphere of fear is built slowly and faultlessly rising all the way to boiling point. Although there are some excellent effects and gore they are used sparingly optimising their effectivity.
The most frightening moments of the film come in the scenes we don’t see but hear described to the characters and us from the unfortunate victims stuck in the middle of the nightmare raging beyond the four walls of the room and the screen.
The characters are perfectly painted and played by the excellent cast lead by the gravel voiced, craggy faced Stephen McHattie. He makes Mazzy a modern day antihero complete with a cowboy hat, a fast mouth and a bad attitude.
Pontypool’s real achievement is in its originality and the simplicity of the setting, which lets the characters and the story create the horror rather than relying on special effects and bucket loads of blood. The movie proves not only that unfilmable books can be filmed, but that true terror is found in the dark recesses of our own imaginations.
Additional film information: Pontypool (2008)