Canadian director Bruce McDonald is back with a new thriller entitled PONTYPOOL, which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. While carrying an interesting premise, the film suffers from some poor acting and lack of production value.
In the film, a disgruntled radio DJ named Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) starts off his first day of work in the middle of a snowstorm. He’s used to chatting up action and controversial topics, not the tame, small town reporting that goes on over at CLSY Radio in Pontypool, Ontario. He butts head immediately with Producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), while assistant Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) kind of digs the variety. As Mazzy is finally starting to accept his situation, an interesting report comes in – a mob has attacked a local hospital. The story builds from the sanctuary of the radio station as things become more and more bizarre – it appears that the mob is infected, and eating people. There’s a virus spreading, and it’s not from being bitten, it’s from speaking the English language…
While the premise sounds completely implausible, writer Tony Burgess takes careful precautions in never confirming the validity of the claim. It’s only a theory being thrown around the radio station, and although it sounds ridiculous, it’s quite a compelling scenario. How could such a think happen? Is it God punishing man? Why is only the English language? Many questions arise and none are answered, which is to the films advantage. Some of the most thrilling films in history come from a lack of explanation and that’s the direction PONTYPOOL takes.
Other than the opening of the film, the entire movie takes place in the radio station. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how McDonald creates space in a seemingly claustrophobic situation. While it looks like one small room, somehow the audience is taken to various places in various angles, which relieve some of the uncomfortable tension. The real magic, though, comes from star Stephen McHattie.
McHattie literally carries the entire movie on his shoulders. PONTYPOOL is exposition heavy as most of the film consists of McHattie on the radio reporting and interviewing. The entire outside world is created through his words. McHattie and the audience work together as he creates the world and our imagination takes over. In essence, the audience’s imagination can determine a huge portion of the entertainment value. It’s unfortunate that Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) comes into the picture, as his overacting and ludicrous persona will immediately remove the audience from the film. In a seemingly important and serious situation, this idiotic doctor comes in and makes a believable film an instant B-movie.
Another downfall of the film is the production value. While the film is directed wonderfully, I found the cinematography to be poor. It looked cheap and small; maybe the set designer should be blamed as well?
While PONTYPOOL is a thought-provoking and suspenseful film, some of the flaws will really take the audience out of the movie. McDonald shows experience in his direction and can sit back proud knowing he was able to pull together a seriously difficult device, even though one can argue that the lack of explanation is a just a copout. PONTYPOOL will leave you with many questions, but the most important one will be, “how much did you enjoy it?”