Monday, July 26, 2010

IN REVIEW: Pontypool (2008)

While it is extremely rare that I will gush about movies here, there's just one that I have to tell you about. For about a year, I heard about- which is ironic, keep reading- a little horror flick called Pontypool. Discussing this movie is oddly appropriate on a book blog because it was based on a novel titled Pontypool Changes Everything. A man named Tony Burgess wrote both the book then adapted the movie for the screen. I'm curious to read the book. The movie is inspired by Welles' War of the Worlds, taking place inside a radio station from the perspective of a radio shock jock, his producer, and a few supporting characters. I think the book might go into greater depth than the movie does, expanding the general concept of Burgess's radical idea which, sadly, is being reviewed as "a zombie flick."

Pontypool is not a zombie movie. There are similarities, sure. But this is more of an epidemic/disaster movie and kind of an original one at that. Burgess proposes an idea that language can become a disease. In this movie, as the characters struggle to realize what's happening, they learn that certain words are "infected." When they say a word, they don't understand. Then they keep trying to repeat it until they do. An infected word for you is not an infected word for someone else. As your mind deteriorates, you begin "hunting" for sound. In sort of the zombie twist, infected people try to ingest the sound. So, for instance, if you hear someone talking you grab them and try to bite their mouth. Literally, they are trying to steal the sound. One infected person, after going through repeats and confusion, just goes off in a corner and starts making this low pitched howl at one point. Super creepy.

A repeating mantra or chant seems to throw off infected people. With everyone saying the same thing, it somehow appeases the disease. It's as if one vocal concept can become a consensus. I also like the idea that when an infected person initially starts repeating a word it might be "an immune response" - your body and mind trying to find this unnamed word disease. It's also kind of great to have a movie where characters are warned halfway through to "avoid the English language." The key to curing this affliction is to understand words in ways that are not the way they are. For example, the one cured person in the film starts repeating "kill" over and over again. When the hero tells her, "kill is kiss" over and over again, she begins to conceptually understand the word differently. Opposites are warned against in the climax, which I'd like to assume is because when you are thinking about the opposite of what a word means, you are still sort of understanding the root word. What's really scary is, can you really stop understanding what a word means? I don't think I could.

Part horror, part suspense, Pontypool is definitely a unique thriller. It challenges your conception of language. Even when the characters know they shouldn't be talking later in the movie, they still can't help themselves. Both the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia have fun articles about the film because well, gosh darnit... it was just so good! Movies don't usually keep me on the edge of my seat like that. I also just read and remembered that, although unnamed in the movie, those afflicted are known as "Conversationalists." Awesome. And a sequel is planner. Awesomer. Without giving away the end, I leave you with the line the protagonist, Grant Mazzy, leaves Pontypool with at the end, "It's not the end of the world, it's just the end of the day."

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