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Movie: Pontypool

If a zombie movie had been done by Alfred Hitchcock, maybe it would have been “Pontypool.” It is what isn’t seen in this movie that makes it particularly creepy. The fear continues to creep up on you, slowly and evenly, and then by the time it’s too late, you realize you’re in an escapable horror.

It’s fascinating that this is being released on the same weekend as the clearly likely to be more popular Sam Raimi film “Drag Me to Hell,” but they are obviously such different movies. “Drag Me to Hell” is an unrelenting fear film with loud music and horror cues. “Pontypool” is actually much more frightening because it doesn’t have all that.

The movie opens when a seemingly crazed woman is almost hit by the tired, hungover radio DJ Grant Mazzy while on his way to work on a snowy Valentine’s Day in Canada. He gets to work and verbally spars and flirts with his producer Sydney. While on the air doing routine news, school closures, and obits, they get some odd reports of strange things happening around town.

Lisa Houle and Stephen McHattie star in "Pontypool."Lisa Houle and Stephen McHattie star in “Pontypool.”

An off-site reporter is describing people running through town naked and talking gibberish and missing body parts. The weird reports from the outside world suddenly make the small staff inside the radio station seem rather claustrophobic. The office of a doctor in town is ransacked in a riot, the phone lines are down, and they lose contact with the reporter on the scene. Then, in marches a church group that is going to perform a song on air to promote their upcoming musical.

If you’ve watched many Canadian movies (and stayed awake through them), you’ve probably run across a Bruce McDonald film. He’s pretty good at handling this absurd set-up even though he’s never done science fiction before, but like I said, it’s quite a bit NOT like a typical film of the genre. The story is from a novel by Tony Burgess (“Pontypool Changes Everything”) and it truly captures the growing weird panic that creeps into the radio studio.

The DJ not only pieces together that a deadly plague is sweeping this Southern Ontario community, but it seems to create a walking dead. Stranger still, he becomes convinced that the virus may not be spread by what people breathe or who they come in contact with, but what people say, and how they say it. Yes, this virus is spread by words.

It’s the lack of gore (again, unlike Raimi’s competing film) that is scary. Don’t expect to see lots of gore in this. Yeah, there are a few moments of creepy-looking creatures climbing through walls and things like that, and lots of vomiting and retching in pain, but the scary stuff is mostly hinted at, and not shown, and that makes it a fascinating mindbender. The movie shifts quickly in tone from a comedy, to a drama, to a science-fiction horror in unnerving ways. In fact, it’s a lot like “The Blair Witch Project,” so if that made you squirm in your seat, then maybe this one will, too.

Rated: R

Stars: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts
Director: Bruce McDonald
Release date: 5/29/09

Studio/Official Site:

[Mike Szymanski, a Hollywood-based freelance writer and author who has written for “Entertainment Weekly,” “USA Today,” the “Los Angeles Times,” and many websites.]

About Jenny Peters (163 Articles)
Jet Set Jen is the brainchild of Jenny Peters, a longtime freelance journalist whose career has spanned everything considered "Lifestyle" reporting, from movies and celebrities to fashion and fast cars, with plenty of food, wine and travel thrown in too. She currently contributes regularly to USA Today's,, New York Magazine, Coast Magazine, Bask Magazine and numerous other newspapers, magazines and websites worldwide. She is a founding and voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (, which annually honors the year's top films with the Critics' Choice Awards. Jenny and her crack cadre of reporters at Jet Set Jen offer up opinions, suggestions and insider scoops on the best that the world has to offer, to keep you on the cutting edge of that ever elusive pursuit of life, liberty, happiness – and fun, fun, fun.

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