Shut up or die.
Ever hear the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword? One way of perceiving that phrase is to say that the word is strong than action, and indeed this proves to be the case in this movie. It's hard to precisely label this in the genre of horror, as some would pass it off as a zombie film - although there are indeed similarities that would undersell the true nature of the film. Tighten your coat and secure the fireplace, this wintry tale of terror comes just in time to mimic the changing seasons.
Pontypool follows the story of radio voice Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on what is surely the strangest day of his life. We start with an odd occurrence when Grant pulls over to the side of the road to answer his phone, in which a woman appears beside his car and just repeats the world "blood" before disappearing off into the winter morning blackness. After arriving at the broadcast station, this happening turns into a story in which callers can call in on their opinion of just when you should call 911. As the morning goes on, coworkers Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) start getting strange stories of things happening. Things only get stranger and stranger from there, resulting in the group being shut in at their own station as events spiral out of control.
The movie does something here that some might at first consider a rather dangerous gamble - the setting, on-screen actors, and overall events are all kept very limited. Everything we see (outside of some obituary shots) are of those inside the station - meaning we spend the entirety of the movie with generally 4 or less actors on screen. Events play out almost entirely off screen until the later portions (when matters become a bit more pressing and heavy), and in turn the movie could honestly be listened too and have the same effect as those who actually watch it. Thankfully, this all works to the betterment of the suspense of the movie, and the actors all do a wonderful job making us feel like they know nothing more than we do.
It's hard to judge as far as effects work and costumes here, as everything is kept on such a small scale. When we finally do see the "infected" people who seem to be causing such a ruckus in the first place, they do look a bit like ordinary folks with a bit of blood on them here and there - some a bit more physically injured looking than others. Grant looks much as one would expect an on-air character to look, often having his cowboy hat seen in the cover art on, with attitude to match, but outside of that singular cowboy hat not much is outside the norm.
Instead, we spend almost all our movie time relying upon the actors presented (mainly Grant, Laurel-Ann and Sydney) to give us a feel for what is going on - and they do a wonderful job. The character dynamics between Sydney and Grant shine through, with Sydney having been in the area much longer than Grant and wishing he would tone down his "rumor mill, no prisoners" attitude a bit when on-air. As reports roll in, we see a shift in Grant's character, going from a hard-edge angry guy to a more worried and caring sort of fellow. The reactions of all those involved as reports roll in of utter chaos outside comes off very believable as well, as we see them start to worry more and more about whats going on and how dangerous it actually is.
In turn, audio is relatively scarce on the music side as well - all the better for pulling you into the atmosphere the movie tries to set up. Actors deliver lines wonderfully, with those performing their lines on a phone sounding as though they are coming in over a cell phone without being hard to understand. There's a bit of French and German thrown around as well (although the subtitles only will queue you in to what is being said in French) towards the end, but the believably of the situation (or at least, how it's being reacted to) is never really in question during the film.
The new spin on disease is also quite interesting here, and indeed outside of the acting job of the before named actors is probably the star of the show. You see, it's not a zombie-like disease spread from contact, no. It's more elaborate than that - and no doubt a lot of people will come out of the movie being a little confused. It's not so much that it's not explained or anything of that sort, but rather the idea is hard to relate. Words, you see, are a dangerous thing, and when something unheard of somehow wills itself into the (specifically) English language, it attaches itself to the very understanding of certain words. Granted, we never really figure out just what words are the triggers to this, but those who come to "understand" these words seem to loose their minds, trying very well to kill that word. Of course, killing that word seems to lead to a great number of murder-suicides.
It's hard to really tell who is going to enjoy this movie. There isn't a whole lot of action, and there also isn't a whole lot of on-screen horror. It's very much a movie about atmosphere and attacking your brain to create the scares as opposed to the generally cheap thrills and jump scares most horror movies give us. If you're down for some mind-thrilling terror, then this might be the kind of movie that will find its way into your collection. I honestly gotta say that it's probably just best to watch it for yourself to judge it, because its just cerebral enough that I feel it's very much a movie that is going to be a hit or miss per person who watches it. In my case, I thoroughly enjoyed it and its fun new breed of crazy, and love the approach that shows truthfully that tension and suspense can be built effectively even if most of the action happens out of the viewers view.