Pontypool on Blu-ray

Sunday, 24 January 2010 10:39

Pontypool” is a low budget horror movie with a high concept. Unfortunately I cannot reveal what that concept is, as that would amount to one hell of a spoiler! Bruce McDonald’s film opens with radio shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie – “2012”, “Watchmen”, “The Fountain”) on his way to start a new job in the back of beyond. In this case that happens to be Pontypool, Ontario.

It is a bitterly cold Winter’s day and the snow is falling. Whilst waiting at some traffic lights, a woman comes out of nowhere, beating on Mazzy’s window and uttering some gibberish that he cannot quite make out. Then, just as suddenly the woman vanishes into the darkness again. Mazzy is shaken, but continues on to work - a low-fi local radio station housed in a church basement. The outspoken DJ, having been sacked from his previous post, tries to rile his new audience, and is swiftly cut down to size by Sydney (Lisa Houle), the station’s no-nonsense producer.

Pontypool on Blu-rayAlso assisting with the broadcast is young Laurel-Ann (British actress Georgina Reilly), and – out in the field – Ken (Rick Roberts of “Man of The Year” – in voice only). To give an idea of the scale of the Pontypool operation, Ken is supposedly their ‘eyes in the sky’, but in fact operates from a hill top with helicopter noises playing in the background!

Pontypool is normally a quiet place at its height and especially tranquil and inactive in the winter. But this is no ordinary day. Reports start to filter in – slowly at first, then with increasing rapidity – of strange crowds of people forming outside a doctor’s surgery. The news gradually becomes more and more disturbing as the behaviour of the crowd seems to grow more and more agitated and aggressive, until the building is destroyed.

More worryingly, the mass of people then gravitates towards the town where the church is located, some five kilometres away. Tension mounts as details of crazy behaviour originate from ever closer neighbourhoods, and reporter Ken perilously tries to keep the station updated whilst maintaining his own safety. Will Mazzy and co be able to piece together the cause of the chaos and perhaps a solution before the enraged populace is upon them?

For a movie that spends 90% of its duration showing three people speaking in a radio studio, “Pontypool” has bucketfuls of atmosphere. Mazzy’s early encounter sets the viewer as well as him on edge from the get-go, and that foreboding event continues to gnaw away at you. Mazzy’s uneasy relationship with Sydney also generates a lot of friction and tension, not least because they are holed up together in the studio – to all intents and purposes a bunker or refuge. He has a wounded ego, and seems desperate to treat this new job and his new audience with just as much disdain the old ones; she continually has to set him straight and remind him that the pace of life is much slower here. He is to present the same program as his predecessor – comfortingly familiar news, sport and weather.

McHattie is tremendous as the gravelly-voiced, craggy-faced DJ with a bold black Stetson perched on his head to remind us that he does not intend to conform. Houle is superb as his foil and guide, steadfast and yet also softly assertive. Reilly is cute as the girl unfortunately caught in between these two sparring veterans.

The script cranks up the fear in expertly-judged steps, leaving the antagonists and the audience bewildered as to what is going on and why. What initially sounds like a mild protest about a doctor’s activities gradually heats up, with Mazzy’s piercing blue/green eyes widening as the terrifying reports start to flood in ever faster. His voice acting is incredibly good, as witnessed in one of the disk’s extras – a radio play version of the movie; the whole piece provides a real workout for your imagination.

You visualise the horrible scenes in your mind, backed up by the subtle but ominous and mood-setting soundtrack.

Towards the end of the movie, some of the action is actually shown on screen, and thankfully it does not disappoint. It is bloody, shocking and provides a perfect match for the superbly pitched dialogue earlier in the film.

I really cannot recommend this film highly enough. It has the atmosphere and dark heart to match John Carpenter’s “The Fog” (the original), “The Thing” and “The Mist”, the concept behind the violent transformations is inspired and highly original, and the acting is top-notch.

The Blu-Ray version reviewed was ultra-sharp, capturing the fascinating face of McHattie brilliantly, and bringing out the muted greys and blues of the set design. The only very slight let-down are the special features, which include the aforementioned “radio play” with a simultaneous  production/behind the scenes photos slideshow, a director’s commentary track, a couple of bizarre but haunting horror short films, a separate stills gallery and a couple of trailers. It would have been nice to have a proper “making of” with cast and crew interviews.

The movie (certificate ‘15’) is released by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment on 25 January, priced £15.99 on DVD and £19.99 on Blu-Ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com  

It is definitely worth paying a few extra pounds for the latter if you have the appropriate equipment.

 

Movie Review: “Pontypool” (2008)

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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