Monday, November 2, 2009

Shut Up or Die

Apparently, I've encountered Stephen McHattie many times throughout his career. I just never noticed it before. He's guest-starred in episodes of my favorite TV shows (The Equalizer, The X-Files), I've seen him in movies (Watchmen, Theodore Rex, The Ultimate Warrior)...but never before has he stood up and forced me to take notice of him and his work. Until now, of course. Now, I am convinced that McHattie is something of a god among men.

Which brings me to Pontypool.

Pontypool is one of those movies that has existed on the periphery of my genre radar screen. For months now, I have been peripherally aware that there was a movie called Pontypool, originating from somewhere in the cold, hidden waste north of the Canadian border, and that this movie, though not actually a zombie movie per se, would appeal to fans of the zombie film genre. That would be me.

Given the state of theatrical releases of genre films (by that, I mean decent, worthwhile, actually scary and exciting genre films--sequels, remakes, and Americanisations of Japanese long-haired-ghost movies do not count), I knew I was not going to see this one on the big screen. If I got to see it at all, I should count myself among the lucky few. As it happens, I was at my local Blockbuster a few days before Halloween and, having snagged a copy of The Brothers Mullen for my wife, wandered over toward the Horror section to see what dreck remained on the shelves.

Didn't make it. Well, I did, and a grabbed a copy of Deadgirl, but before I got to the Horror section, I stopped in the P section of New Releases and there was Pontypool. The movie I had been told to watch out for over the last several months was there on the shelves, a Blockbuster Exclusive no less, and no one had warned me that it was available. (Probably because of the aforementioned Blockbuster Exclusive thing, now that I think about it.) By way of celebrating their exclusive right to this property, my local Blockbuster--no doubt in reflection of Blockbusters around the country--had devoted at least twelve inches of space to the six copies available to rent. This, in a section at the exact end of the store opposite the Blockbuster Exclusive-New Release section. Odd, but I had the opinion that Blockbuster might actually be somewhat embarrassed by this movie's exclusivity. I mean, six copies of this little piffle of a movie means that much less space they could otherwise devote to, I dunno, Transmorphers: Fall Of Man.

But I digress.

Director Bruce McDonald (The Tracey Fragments, Hard Core Logo, and several other movies I have never before seen) and writer Tony Burgess (adapting from his own novel, apparently a bestseller in his native Canada) have taken the right pages from Kevin Smith's book in staging this film. There is but a single location, radio station AM 660 CSLY, in the basement of a local church. Everything takes place, departing only momentarily for peeks outside as the wind rises to blow snow against the windows, and when the infected townspeople arrive, attracted by the sound of Grant Mazzy's (played by Stephen McHattie) voice.

(And what a voice it is: a smooth baritone, deepened but not yet roughened by Mazzy's alcoholic intake, a voice that easily slips inside your head to envelope your brain, bringing with it all sorts of crazy, crazy ideas.)

An hour or so into the snowy morning drivetime broadcast, in the midst of news of school closures, news reaches the station that something is going on outside: people are going crazy, speaking gibberish, massing in numbers, and attacking otherwise sane people. What the heck's going on out there? Mazzy, his producer and engineer, are at a loss, and things get worse. And worse. The violence grows and local authorities are unable to control are, most likely joining in.

A reporter from the BBC calls, wanting an interview with Mazzy: people are dying out there, the reporter claims, and Mazzy might somehow he connected; care to comment?

Turns out, he might actually be.

For some time now I have been joking about someone recieving a virus attached to his email and instead of that virus infecting his computer, it infects the guy instead; a virus written in computer code "jumping" species and infecting people instead. Could such a thing be so far into the future? It's already been suggested that people's mind are a matrix of "intelligent" ideas, called memes, that our brains use to program themselves with. In Pontypool, director McDonald and writer Burgess, are suggesting that language itself, the means by which ideas are transmitted, can somehow break down, become corrupted, the corruption distorting the meaning of words, infecting and corrupting the matrix of intelligent ideas used to program our brains. When language itself turns against us, we have only two options:

Shut up or die.

I could digress further, and that in itself is a testament to the wonderfulness of this movie: that there are so many discussible moments here, in what has likely been written off by Blockbuster Video's matrix of semi-intelligent meme colonies/purchasing agents as "just another zombie movie." Do not, however, be similarly fooled.

As for Stephen McHattie, he is firmly on my radar screen: I will be on the lookout for him in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I watched this movie with you. To be honest I did not want too. I'm so glad that I did. I really REALLY wish this "great" nation of ours would dole out money to independent film makers as it is done in Canada. Think of all the truly wonderful films that still exisit on story boards or in the minds of people who just cannot afford to make them.

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