Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kiss Means Kill: The Paranoid Pleasures of PONTYPOOL (2008)

If you're looking for a Halloween treat in your voluminous Netflix library, look no further. PONTYPOOL is one of the most original, offbeat, and peculiar horror films in quite some time. This Canadian gem largely takes place inside a talk show radio station recording studio (claustrophobia alert!) located in the titular unincorporated town in Ontario on a blustery cold Valentine's Day. The haggard host of the show, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie from 300 and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) trudges into work looking like a hangover in a cowboy hat. Having just encountered a strange woman mumbling inaudibly outside his car, Grant is in no mood to deal with his micromanaging producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) whose incessant attempts at making him conform to radio standards bugs the hell out of him (if he is Howard Stern then she is his Pig Virus.)
Also just outside the recording booth is the perky and pretty Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) who, having just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, seems to regard Grant as personal hero.
Grant dutifully reads news copy, cuts to the chopper-in-the-sky traffic reports, plays pre-recorded ads, weather reports, and even conducts an on-air interview, albeit one that ends ominously and forebodes much doom. Whenever Grant goes offscript, Sydney barks at him through her microphone while Laurel-Ann attempts to conceal her admiration for the rebel host.
All of this is mere prologue to a story that becomes more and more eerie and yes, claustrophobic, as eyewitness reports from the field indicate something truly bizarre is occurring in Pontypool yet no one seems to know exactly what that is (hence the oddball encounter at the film's start.)
Houle and Reilly are both good in their respective roles but like the radio show itself this McHattie is the star all of the way. His nearly skeletal visage, so frightening in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, is obscured somewhat by an unkempt, salt and pepper, beard, but the actor anchors the film with such a wizened, cool-as-a-cucumber, character that it becomes even more enjoyable as Grant becomes completely unhinged.
To reveal the mystery that lies at the heart of PONTYPOOL would spoil the pleasure of feeling the movie's grip slowly but surely tightening all around you. Like the best horror films, it forces its viewers to employ their imagination as rampant paranoia gives way to fear and then ultimately true terror. Think of the film as something of a cross between the best elements of Oliver Stone's TALK RADIO and David Cronenberg's VIDEODROME and you will have an idea of the grisly fun that awaits the discerning horror fan as they experience this unique and uniquely horrifying tale.

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