‘60s experimentalist Andy Warhol garnered his fame by utilizing the repetition of an image or idea until it had lost all meaning. This technique is still used today, though to a lesser extent, and its ideology can still be found in many contemporary forms of media. The film currently under the spotlight being a prime example of such. Based on the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, Bruce McDonald’s 2008 film “Pontypool” is the minimalist story, and a unique take on one of the most popular sub genre’s in horror, of a talk radio show staff’s gruesome experience as they live through their last day on the air.
Grant Mazzy (Stephan McHattie) is a much, much less sociopathic version of Alex Jones, with a philosophy that pissing off the listeners of his art form is the quickest route to building the strong following such a personality needs to thrive on. This could easily double as the filmmakers own voice being spoken through his on-screen surrogate. His semi-conservative producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) is not too fond of his brutal honesty and fear mongering tangents as he exaggerates every tidbit of information, from gridlock traffic to missing animals in the community. It’s February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and while being fed material to speak about through the news wire by in-studio air receptionist Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), a dark series of events begins to play out, leading up to what “sounds” to be the start of a zombie apocalypse. However the film takes the extra step as to hold itself back from becoming the regular outbreak film, as only the auditorial sense is given the gift of viral pleasure.
The thing that makes life so interesting is the mystery that engulfs every aspect of it. Therefore, hearing the overwhelmingly detailed step by step descriptions of a zombie apocalypse without seeing the catastrophe dead on (pun intenDEAD) will always add a greater effect. As the radio crew listens in on the events as they play out in real time, we see not only the purest, most recognizable form of fear, but the on-screen representation of a terrified horror movie audience as they attempt to make it through the experience first hand.
As the narrative moves forward the viewer soon learns the cause of this new form of viral outbreak is not spread through the blood or the air, but through the English language. With each person (or at least each person residing in Pontypool) equipped with their own “host word,” and each world revolving around the aspect of love and affection, the very mention of this unique word will soon send the victim into a jumbled mess of hysteria, eventually leading them to eat your face, Florida style. By being a radio host that everyone in the town listens to it’s quickly understood that Grant could be a major reason for everyone dying. The only successful alternative to this being the silent treatment.
Now this film, like many others before and after it, shares and owes quite a bit of its meaning to the undead films of George A. Romero, due to the fact of it being shrouded in metaphor (and I mean drowning in it!). On the topic of double meanings, trust me, this film has it all; People as slaves to the radio, dependency on the opinion and view of others, the influence people have on each other through powerful language, the positive aspects of a society embracing unfamiliar cultures, the mass acceptance of killing and death in modern civilization, it’s all here folks! Above all however, the film really likes to focus on the meaninglessness of words, that when repeated so often, have no real value underneath their exterior. Or, words that should mean something, but are only shared in the most shallow of ways.
By taking place on the most superficially emotional day of the year this last hidden ideology gains the most drastically powerful representation of them all. However the film does a great job at finding clever ways to disguise its key plot beats that reveal its metaphoric connections to the corporate dollar store novelty that is Valentine’s Day. Thus making it oh so appreciated when one with a questioning or negative view towards the tradition comes in tune with it. Moreover if the existential reinterpretation of vocal meaninglessness is the true star here, then that pay-off of “curing” people of their “zombified” state is next in line. By actually kissing and loving someone as opposed to showing the act of love through a card or box of generic chocolates, the world can be cured of the real problem – That this yearly dogma makes no fucking sense. After all, people only love each other one day out of the year. It’s just science. Much like how you only donate to the poor on Christmas, otherwise, they’re not poor today. Right, bro?
– Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno