I've been burned by enough entries on "The Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen" lists that Pontypool's nearly universal inclusion did it no favors. Further, I'm not a big fan of contemporary zombies movie — which is how Pontypool seemed to get (inaccurately but understandably) classified — I was lukewarm on director Bruce McDonald's punk mockumentary Hard Core Logo, and the radio station setting is an exhausted 1980s trope that I didn't feel needed reviving. And what kind of name is "Pontypool?" With all of that working against it, I was pleasantly surprised by this uniquely compelling horror story and its powerful performances.
Set inside a rural Canadian radio station, three employees — a DJ, a producer and an engineer — learn early in their morning Valentine's Day shift that some kind of epidemic is wreaking havoc in the blizzardy outside. Although Pontypool adheres a formula for its first two-thirds, its underlying concept is so different from that of similar movies that the very exploration of the idea carries a kind of tension. It's not even a plausible concept — and even less plausible that any character would be able to discern it — but the primary cast sells it with complete commitment. Stephen McHattie (who, I must admit, I mistook for Lance Henriksen) manages to make a potentially obnoxious, grizzled cowboy hat-wearing talk radio-style maverick somehow magnetically watchable for over 90 minutes; Lisa Houle, despite some canned conflict with Hattie from the start, dips into a deep well of genuine emotion that persuasively mitigates issues one might raise with the narrative; Georgina Reilly skillfully balances between the combative dynamics coming from either side with an organically affable personality.
Based on the 1995 Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything, McDonald's film feels amazingly fresh, especially given its radio station setting and the director's indulgence of the decades' old visual trope of a camera slowly swirling around and closer to its shock jock. The power of the original idea, as well as its sincere delivery by commanding actors, is proof that any story can be worth telling if it's told well.
There is a post-credits coda that seems out of place. Whereas a similar trick at the end of The Woman added a strange sense of surreal mystery to that otherwise brutal film, the Sin City-style epilogue to Pontypool was confusing and disrupted what came before it.
Pontypool was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickchart boss Nathan Chase. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #192 (88%), making it his sixth favorite Horror Movie out of 55 from the first decade of the 2000s. It ranked on my Flickchart at #885 (77%), where it's my #11 of 161 Horror Movies from the first decade of the 2000s.