Welcome to another edition of Friday Flix. Since I’ve been in scary movie mode, I continued on with another frightening film called Pontypool.
This is an independent zombie movie coming to us from Canada, filmed in 2008. With how popular zombies are lately, I think it’s highly appropriate. Plus there’s something wonderfully fascinating about this film. You don’t actually see zombies for probably 3/4 of the film.
The description from IMDB.com:
A psychological thriller in which a deadly virus infects a small Ontario town.
Sometimes independent film means small budget which means hoaky. Not so with Pontypool. Even those of you sick of zombie anything might want to give this little film a look.
It begins with washed up radio host Grant Mazzy who’s been demoted to some teeny little radio show in a town called Pontypool. We start with just audio. Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is saying something about a cat missing, that it all starts with this cat missing. His voice reminded me a lot of Ken Nordine—hooking me right there.
Mazzy encounters a strange woman on the road who looks confused, and starts his radio broadcast by asking the listeners what they’d do. Then little by little strange calls start to come in, at first seemingly innocuous. The cops are breaking up a fight. Big deal. Oh wait, it wasn’t a fight? Wait, what’s going on?
The whole time you’re just hearing about these strange attacks, most certain it’s some kind of crazy rioting group, but they can never get a clear answer from anyone. And then their Sunshine Copter weatherman calls in…. Trouble.
WHAT YOU DON’T SEE
Something I really appreciated about this film was the way they wrote the accounts of those calling in. They seem just like regular testimonials, but if you listen carefully, there was some good crafting going into them—giving us all the info we needed to paint horrifying images in our mind.
This is my issue with a lot of horror and suspense flicks these days. They leave nothing up to the imagination. Gore abounds, blood spurts every other minute, and our imagination is quietly shunted to the back of the bus, not to get uppity about it. But Pontypool… oh… the things your imagination will show you… It’s funny, because I still can’t get a lot of those images I never saw out of my head.
When it comes to novels, the approach would be a little different. You don’t want characters coming and telling you what you can’t see. The reason it works for film is we can hear emotion and see reactions. But that doesn’t mean a similar method can’t be applied. There are things in first drafts we tell our readers rather than let them imagine. Sometimes we assume they’re less clever than they are. Sometimes we show them exactly what the mystery is, forgetting that fear of the unknown is the most frightening fear of them all.
I also think it’s cool the whole thing takes place in one location.
THE BIG HOWEVER
I don’t want to give things away today. Well, I hope I won’t. Let’s just say when you find out the reason for how these zombies are being created it feels a little…stupid? I couldn’t help spending the remaining minutes arguing in my mind about how that would never work and it’s totally unfeasible. But some of the things they do because of that reason are spectacularly creepy. I think with a little more editing, they might have been able to pull something better off than what they did.
Which leads to my other big problem with this film.
CHARACTERS OF CONVENIENCE
This doctor they mention fairly early in the film, shows up at the radio station, somehow escaping the mobs of zombies out and about. He tells our heroes everything they need to know to solve all their problems and finish the film before deciding it’s time to be heroic and lead the zombies away from them.
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t bring in a character who acts like God, divinely intervening and giving your characters everything they need in a most obvious and pathetic way. It might have worked a little better if the good doctor had been scheduled for an interview anyway that morning. Or if he called in just before being killed, trying to tell them something that they later figure out. But just giving it all to them.
It kills the payoff.
But since the creators of this film, both writer, actor, and director alike had done such a good job building up the beginning of the film, I was willing enough to forgive and finish. But the ending still bothered me. It was like coming to the end of the Lemony Snicket series, which some might call the BIGGEST COPOUT ON FINISHING A STORY IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE.
Okay, Pontypool wasn’t that bad. But seriously, when you’re writing a story, don’t make it convenient. It’s boring. It’s annoying. And it probably means you didn’t do enough drafts before calling it finished.
But that’s not to say I didn’t love Pontypool. I did! In fact it had me so freaked out, I had to watch an episode of Clean House just to bring things down. (But it really only meant zombie dreams with the Clean House crew as zombies. Weird…)
Oh, and one more thing. Kill is kiss.
Have you seen Pontypool? What did you think of it? Do you think movies these days leave little up to the imagination? How do you feel about books who wrap up things too conveniently? Let me know!