For those of you who didn’t read the previous entries, this series of posts is related to a bit of pop-culture archaeology I did a few months past, trawling Netflix for a bunch of movies that I’d been meaning to watch but never quite got around to seeing. On the logic that if I was still thinking about them years later, they must have something going for them, I finally watched them all in one long binge, and am sharing the results with you!
This one, ‘Pontypool’, was part of the glut of zombie movies that have taken over the horror genre in the last decade or so. I don’t think I’m providing any deep psychological insights by suggesting that there’s a link between the events of 9/11/2001 and the wave of zombie movies; 9/11 traumatized American culture, and stories about societal collapse and the return of fears long thought buried are a pretty sensible response to that horror. (That’s also why we got our first “fast zombie” movies after 9/11; slow zombies are an implacable march of horror, while fast zombies represent that sense of chaos and rapidly-escalating threat that became very familiar to people who turned on their TVs one morning to see a national landmark suddenly disappear. The 2004 ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake absolutely captures its zeitgeist perfectly. But I digress.)
‘Pontypool’ isn’t a “fast zombie” movie, but it does use one of the most popular tropes of the zombie story; it evokes societal collapse through modern media. When society crumbles and the zombie horde overruns humanity, we’re not going to learn about it first-hand…at least, not if we’re lucky…we’re going to learn about it from the news. In this case, it’s a radio station out in the middle of nowhere, in a small town called Pontypool, whose reports slowly and eerily turn from the mundane day-to-day routine of traffic and weather to reports of riots, martial law, and finally the town’s own little apocalypse.
All of which would be a bit over-familiar even if executed well, except that ‘Pontypool’s zombie hordes aren’t exactly the kind you’re used to. Sure, they’re mindless. Sure, they rampage. Sure, they even lumber around and attack people. But this movie has a whole different way of conceptualizing zombies; this zombie plague isn’t spread by bite or scratch, but through an entirely different and unsettling manner. I’m trying hard not to spoil it, because one of the most interesting things about this movie is the way that it presents its information in a way that disorients not just the characters, but the audience as well. You never quite feel like you know what’s going on in ‘Pontypool’ on first viewing, and that’s one of its best elements. I’d like to preserve that for you. So I’ll just say that it’s not quite your typical zombie movie and leave it at that.
The “Run! It’s the zombies! Barricade the doors!” part of the film, which is pretty much de rigeur for the sub-genre, does bring it back to predictability just a tad. There are only so many ways that you can have people fend off a zombie horde, after all. But I forgave the movie that little bit of bog-standard zombie-ness, because there’s still a ton of excellent characterization and creepy atmosphere leading into that end of things…not to mention a weird, lingering epilogue that takes a strange detour into arthouse surrealism. On the whole, I’d say it’s worth your time to look it up on Netflix.