Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Soft Spoken

Directed By Bruce Mcdonald
"The virus bit wildly at the exterior shimmer of the paradigms, jamming selection with pointed double fangs.
A terrible squealing ripped beneath the surface of the paradigms as they were destroyed. . . .
The plague first manifests itself in the infected person as a type of déjà vu, with an accompanying aphasia.
Everything that happened presented itself as already happened.
This infinitely complicated things.
For as soon as the person adjusted, understanding that this sensation was merely a symptom of the plague, his or her understanding slipped backward into the already happened.
Each realization had to be doubled against itself into becoming understood next: an impossible therapy to maintain.
The present tense was a slippery slope to anyone in remission.
The "now" became a deepening lesion, and from it rose the smell of this new sickness."
-Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess

"Like Don Delillo directs a Twilight Zone" episode. I can't remember where I read that but the comparison is, accurate.

"Pontypool" is a semiotic horror film with language at it's bloodthirsty cannibal heart.

Mememetic zombies (Lord how Ive waited to say that phrase) unofficialy known as "conversationalists" start appearing in a rural French Canadian town, via reports sent into the town's sole evening radio show.

A DJ talk radio host from the city named Grant Mazzy, has moved to the small town to take on the less than auspicious position as a local DJ, and the crew are set for a simple night of learning the ropes and small time traffic reports.

Calls begin flooding into the studio aboutstrange behavior, riots, chanting, and screaming.

The reports themselves are eerily incomplete, contradictory, and disturbing creating a haunting tension in the fragile glass that separates the DJ both from the rest of the world.

"Well, what the fuck happened today folks? Someone took a buzzsaw to your middle, and they pulled out a wheeling devil, and they spilled it right across your anthill. But you know what folks? We were never making sense. We were never making sense."-Grant Mazzy

A psychologist appears at the station to escape the mayhem, and gives his theory about the infection spreading through the "English language"; where certain words are infected, and once spoken consume the mind like cancer, leaving the victim a mindless drone, who can only attempt to communicate by "eating their way into each other's mouths".

The trapped dj and crew, are then left with the pickle of how to warn people of the dangers of speaking, when words themselves are dangerous.

"Everybody try not to understand the meaning of anything"

There are some very funny, withdrawn and boiler pot suspense filled scenes in the first act, and plenty of gore and jolts in the second half.

I did not know Bruce McDonald of "The Tracey Fragments" had another little gem locked away in him, but where Tracey broke apart the screen and image itself to create it's schizoid separation between fantasy and reality, " Pontypool" plays with voice, recording, and sound to achieve a similar disembodied effect.

According to the author of the novel and screenplay, the germ of the film sprang from unlikely sources. “The language virus just fell in as an idea ... It wasn't, ultimately, French semioticians (or Laurie Anderson/William Burroughs) that helped me build it but neo-platonic grammarians and occult memory theorists from the early modern period. Petrus Ramus influence on Marlowe (the final scenes in the film are modeled on Marlowe's final scene in Faust - oh my god, this sounds pretentious, but, whatever, you do what you do) and Giordano Bruno, Fuccini and others who where convinced that rhetoric had the ability to change everything. That if words were absorbed into places and spoken in a certain order by a person who felt this way or that and had ordered their recent memory properly then by uttering the simplest of words or phrases they and the world could be altered essentially. I needed ideas that contained insane ambitions because, basically, it had to work as a horror story, it had to work as if thought up by mad science (“It's Alive!") I have always thought (wrongly) that the real students of Un Chien Andalou were the makers of Phantasm, not David Lynch. In the film the other obvious influence was HP Lovecraft. The great unnamable closing in. Uncontainable. Unknowable. And, ultimately, us."-Tony Burgess

The locked room structure of the desolate radio station, leaves space for us to imagine more than we see or understand, and has all the immediacy and creepy vibes of a good campfire tale, recalling the glories of, while with an eyes on the problematic nature of, oral storytelling, media responsibility, and human communication in general. Thankfully Burgess and Mcdonald know when to raise a question and when to turn on the projectile vomit, so the film has well composed balance that it only deviates from, in it's awkward accusatory final speech against the powers that be."Pontypool" might loose or put off some with its literary references to Barthes and Mailer, or in the overt "This is Orson Wells" Radio-Play-ness of it all, but decent performances, a unique setting, storyline and execution (where hearing an event is more frightening then witnessing it) all conspires to make Pontypool, a compulsively watchable and thoughtful modern horror film, with more than the usual mindless zombie moans and groans for those willing, or unable to stop listening.

No comments: