This is where the spoiler would go if there was going to be one. But there’s not. In fact, I’m barely going to say anything about the 2008 Canadian film Pontypool. And that’s because I want to talk about going in blind. Before I knew about the movie, I discovered the book Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess. Aside from having a cool title, the book was evidently about zombies; I knew this because it was on a list called something like “Great Books About Zombies.” Despite ordering Pontypool from Amazon, I never got around to reading it, and it eventually found itself donated to the local used bookstore after having been relegated to the Pile of Stuff I’ll Probably Never Get Around To.
Then Netflix decided that I ought to watch Pontypool, the movie adapted by author Tony Burgess from his own novel. Netflix queued that puppy up in every list of suggestions it had for me. But I’m good at ignoring things.
But then. Then I started listening to a great horror movie podcast called Faculty of Horror, hosted by two intelligent ladies who also happen to be Canadian. Their country of origin only matters because they value the culture that comes from their homeland, which led them to do an episode on Pontypool. I didn’t listen to that episode when it first downloaded. No, I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something. And so I finally watched Pontypool.
Most of the time, we know at least something about the movies we see before we see them. We are bombarded by trailers and ads that give us some inkling about what the movie is about and how it might play out. Since the dawn of the internet, information has been particularly abundant; movie nerds who like to unearth every detail, or movie lovers who want to stoke their own anticipation and excitement, can feed off of a steady stream of rumors, leaks, interviews, and sneak peaks practically from the moment a movie is conceived to the day it opens in theaters.
As someone who reads a lot of film criticism, I fall prey to this consumption of anticipatory information frequently enough. Usually it’s just because I’m excited to see something, and usually, it doesn’t ruin my eventual movie experience. I’m not a spoiler-phobe; I believe you can know things about a movie, even big things, and still get pleasure from the way a film unfolds.
But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to go into a movie without knowing much of anything about it. That’s what happened when I finally watched Pontypool. I knew it had zombies, and that was literally it. Fast zombies? Slow zombies? Voodoo zombies? Who could say? I didn’t know if I was in store for a gore fest or a thoughtful art film. No idea whether this thing took place in a city, near a farm, or on an island (Anne of Zombie Gables, anyone?).
Pontypool hinges on the slow, baffling, and increasingly terrifying trickle of information. Its main characters know almost as little as I knew going in. This made for an exciting symmetry between characters and viewer: As Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie, who seems born for this role) and Sydney (Lisa Houle) sort through the puzzling information that comes their way, I was doing the same. Every time a question was answered, my reaction mirrored theirs. Listening plays a huge role in this film, and every time the characters sat, rapt, as they listened, I know my face looked just like theirs — wide-eyed, open-mouthed, desperate to hear what would unfold next.
I’m guessing a good number of people who read this won’t have seen Pontypool. Check it out — it’s a good scare. And if you do, try watching it without learning anything more about it first. It’s an experience worth having.
- I will say this: Some of Pontypool is a little problematic, particularly the "solution" toward the end. How, exactly, is it supposed to work? What's the pattern? I still don't know. But by the end of the movie, I'm so caught up in the experience, I also sort of don't care.
- Apparently, there is or was a sequel called Pontypool Changes in development. From what I read on IMDB, Pontypool might be the first of three related movies. Although nothing's happened since 2008, so maybe that whole project got cancelled?
- Pontypool is an actual town in Canada. Roadtrip!
- Back when The Dissolve was still around, writer Keith Phipps recommended Pontypool as an "underrated" horror film. Check out his conversation with Matt Singer (but only after you watch the movie!)
- Mrs. French's cat is missing.