Pontypool (2008)

★★★★

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Director: Bruce McDonald

Release Date: March 6th, 2009 (Canada); October 16th, 2009 (UK)

Genre: Horror; hriller

Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

Set in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, radio host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) drives through blizzard-like conditions to work and on the way has an odd encounter with a woman who repeats muffled sounds over and over. When he reaches his radio broadcasting station, he is joined by the station manager, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and the technical assistant, Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) before going about his day-to-day activities. After an average, less-than-noteworthy few hours of news, Grant receives information from the station’s helicopter reporter, Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) that an apparently violent mob has infiltrated the office of one of the town’s doctors. From then on, it becomes apparent to Grant and the others that something is not quite right with the ‘mob’ in question, and the radio employees’ situation quickly becomes one of doubt, fear and worry.

Originally screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, Pontypool is a completely different take on the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre. Whereas the focus of such films tend to be on gore and exhilarating action, Pontypool certainly is exhilarating, but far more in the psychological sense than in anything to do with flying body parts. The first thing to say about this film is that it is set, for the most part, in one location — the radio station — which benefits the film hugely. Director Bruce McDonald could very well have taken his cameras to various locations and opted for visual scares, but instead he centres the slow building and uneasy atmosphere on dialogue alone. Having the film play out in one location, and through the eyes of the three characters in the radio station, also places the viewer in the station with the characters — as opposed to he/she being repeatedly removed from film due to it jumping all over the place.

“Kevin, I told you not to watch ‘The Red Wedding’.”

Having shot the film in a single location, McDonald is able to fully develop his main characters and show off their every emotion while they receive word about various horrible events taking place elsewhere in the town. Stephen McHattie pulls out an over-the-top, yet thoroughly entertaining performance as a tiring radio presenter who seems to irritate more than anything else. The over-the-top element of McHattie’s performance ensures that the film does not slip completely into a downbeat, hopeless realm and even gives Pontypool a slightly humorous tone at times. His somewhat distant nature at the beginning quickly unravels as the situation dawns on McHattie and his colleagues. Lisa Houle is decent in her portrayal of a considerably controlling station manager. Her character grows as the plot develops, and for her first film role (she is married to McHattie, I wonder how she got this gig?) she puts in a solid effort which is sometimes let down by her less-than-believable attempts at displaying grief. Each of the supporting actors step up to the plate when called to do so meaning there really is no weak link in the cast.

“Let me guess, she watched it too?”

I am not entirely sure what McDonald had in mind when he was making Pontypool, in terms of what he wanted audiences to take from it, but I would love to know. For me, it is clearly a film about how we, as society and as individuals, are so wound up and led on by dialogue — regardless of who or what the source is. The film evokes connotations about how governments rule us and how the influence, and existence, of a global media order thrives on our reaction and acceptance of what they tell us. Throughout the film, our lead characters are relentlessly relayed news and it is their reaction to each snippet of news (one of acceptance over ignorance) that the film is built on — their lack of dismissal means the viewer goes on a journey of weariness, anxiety and fright alongside the radio trio. For all the viewer and characters know, the information they are receiving could be a hoax — again, the ploy by McDonald to keep the focus of the film in one location is essential here — but without seeing what is going on externally, they (and we) end up putting faith in unfounded knowledge. Sounds vaguely familiar, right?

“You all watched it? Brilliant.”

In terms of logistics: visually, at a budget of around one and half million dollars, Pontypool looks great and includes some neat gory, non-CG effects. I noted a few paragraphs prior that the film chooses atmosphere over gore for scares, but what is a zombie film without a few zombies and some blood and guts? Pontypool is far from loaded with the aforementioned though, which is a good thing because it certainly would have been easy for McDonald to set the film off in a clichéd zombie-fest direction during the last thirty minutes or so, but his avoidance to do so benefits the overall product greatly. The script is well written and smooth, particularly in the first half of the film where words are the primary purveyor of scares. The lack of drag (not that kind) during the film is a testament to the writers’ ability to keep their writing slick and interesting.

Just like in my Star Trek Into Darkness review, I am going to avoid giving away too much here (I reckon I should just get rid of the whole spoiler thing anyway, it is slightly disrespectful to the film industry I think), however I will say that the ending worked for me. I have no idea what was going on during the post-credits scene though, somebody will need to fill me in on that one.

Pontypool is a unique film in that it successfully combines the zombie genre with psychological horror, offering up a thought-provoking and generally gripping thriller in the process.

Shockingly Good Television

Warning: There will be spoilers (and blood, probably).

Bear with me here, for I am still reeling from last night’s instalment of Game of Thrones (“The Rains of Castamere”). Having recorded the episode to watch later, I browsed through Twitter only to discover an outcry of shock, fury, tears and every other emotion that is not necessarily a positive one. ‘The Red Wedding’ as I believe it is commonly known as amongst dedicated fans of the show (the ones who know everything about everyone, like those guys on Sky Atlantic’s Thronecast — very impressive) certainly lived up to the hype and proved itself to be one of the most shocking television moments I have ever witnessed. If you do not watch Game of Thrones you are missing out — and are also probably a bit fed up with the content that the internet has relentlessly regurgitated over the last day or two.

Therefore, rather than another top five films from me today, I have decided to pick my most shocking television moments. I must stress that I have not seen every television show in the world (in actual fact, I really have not seen that much — particularly older shows), therefore if a stand-out scene from the television show that you watch is not included then it is probably because I have not seen it yet — I have never seen Dexter or Breaking Bad, for example. No, these are the most shocking moments from the shows that I have watched. Also, they are in no particular order, because that would call for more effort than I can muster up after last night’s Game of Thrones malarkey.

Ned Stark’s beheading — Game of Thrones

(Season: 1, Episode: 9 — “Baelor”)

“I hope that’s a rubber sword.”

After being betrayed at the hands of the Lannisters following Robert Baratheon’s death, Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is executed in front of a clamouring crowd at King’s Landing.

This was the audience’s first warning from author George R.R. Martin and show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to stop watching if we did not approve of the death of main characters – because it is going to happen. A lot, evidently. There are three things make this so shocking: the shows willingness to kill off main characters without hesitation; the presence of Ned Stark’s two daughters, Sansa and Arya, at the execution; and King Joffrey’s ruthlessness and lack of mercy towards Stark, even after the latter had confessed to treason and sworn allegiance to the Lannisters. That Joffrey is a bugger. The only unsurprising aspect of this death is that it was at the expense of Sean Bean.

Jack is ordered to kill Ryan Chappelle — 24

(Season: 3, Episode: 18 — “Day 3: 6:00 a.m. — 7:00 a.m.”)

“Dude, i missed.”

As a result of their inability to find terrorist Stephen Saunders in time, Jack Bauer is ordered to kill CTU’s Regional Division Director, Ryan Chappelle.

Although he was never the most popular character in the show, the death of Ryan Chappelle was certainly despairing, not to mention unexpected. This cemented Bauer as a man willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to save the majority. The direct involvement of the President of the United States, David Palmer — he was the one who assigned the task to Bauer — makes this all the more shocking. Chappelle’s revelation that he had no friends or close family, along with Jack’s apology for failing Chappelle, only added to the sombre nature of this scene, telling fans of the show that, sometimes, the bad guys really do get their own way.

Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes are both set in limbo — Ashes to Ashes

(Season: 3, Episode: 8 — “Episode 8”)

“Pub?”

It is revealed that Detective Gene Hunt and the rest of the police officers (including Alex Drake and Sam Tyler) are all dead and left lingering a form of purgatory.

This one caught me off guard, mainly because I was expecting a completely different ending (one which I cannot remember — it was three years ago). It turns out that every episode in both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes is actually a depiction of “restless” police officers who are, unknowingly, seeking a way to “move on” — symbolised by ‘The Railway Arms’ pub. Hunt is the only character who has known this from the beginning, and has been acting as a guide for newly bereaved officers. The limbo explanation is not the most shocking on the list, but it was a nice twist and a fitting end to the show.

Rick kills Shane — The Walking Dead

(Season: 2, Episode: 12 — “Better Angels”)

“That’s not how you play Statues!”

Knowing that a troubled Shane is about to kill him, Rick is forced to turn the tables and act first against his best friend.

The death of Shane at the hands of Rick is arguably the most shocking, and heartbreaking scene, to come out of The Walking Dead thus far. Again, the death of a main character plays a part in the shocking nature of this scene, but the emotional attachment to both characters is also a major player. The audience had known that something was brooding between the pair since the beginning of season one as a result of Shane’s affair with Rick’s wife Lori, but for it to result in the death of Shane was certainly alarming. The proof is in the pudding as far as ratings go, because as a result of Shane’s untimely demise, the episode after this one (Episode 13, “Beside the Dying Fire”) drew over nine million viewers, up from just under seven million this time around, and breaking all sorts of records at the time.

Dr. Thredson is Bloody Face — American Horror Story: Asylum

(Season: 2, Episode: 5 — “I am Anne Frank (Part 2)”)

“I’m too old for this.”

Lana discovers that the man who has helped her escape the asylum, Dr. Thredson, is actually the brutal serial killer, Bloody Face.

Throughout the second season of American Horror Story, the burning question had been: who is Bloody Face? Though many were accused, it was Kit Harrington, a young man blamed for the disappearance of his wife, who was singled out eventually. It sort of made sense (well, apart from the audience more or less knowing it was not Kit due to events broadcast at the beginning of the season) that he was the killer, right? Wrong. It turns out Bloody Face was actually the doctor assigned to help both Kit and Lana, Dr. Thredson. In case you have never seen American Horror Story before and are unaware, it really is, well — mental. This is definitely not the most shocking event on the list, but having Zachary Quinto portray an evil, nasty and downright creepy serial killer was a touch of genius at the pens of the writers.

The flashback is actually a flashforward — Lost

(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 – “Through the Looking Glass”)

“I left my shaving kit on the island… WE HAVE TO GO BACK!”

Jack’s apparent flashbacks throughout the episode are revealed to be flashforwards, divulging that he and Kate have both escaped from the island somehow.

“We have to go back!” And just like that, Lost hits another home run. This one really blew me away. Known for its signature flashbacks throughout the first two seasons, and majority of the third, Lost creators J.J. Abrams and Cartlon Cuse, masterfully lulled viewers into a false sense of security as Jack’s flashbacks in the finale of season three turned out to be flashforwards, revealing that he and Kate (who is meeting Jack in the scene) were off the island. For the first time in 72 episodes, the audience finds out that some characters have left the island – the whole aim of the characters in the show in the first place. In true Lost fashion, viewers were left with an almighty cliffhanger, with so mention questions remaining unanswered: How did they get off the island? Who else is off the island? Why does Jack really want to go back? And so on. By a distance this is one of the most shocking and surprising moments on this list — it still gets me to this day!

David Palmer’s assassination — 24

(Season: 5, Episode: 1 — “Day 1: 7:00 a.m. — 8:00 a.m.”)

“I want to play a game.”

As he is discussing his memoirs with his brother, David Palmer is shot in the neck by a sniper, and killed.

The assassination of former President David Palmer kicked off season five with a massive bang. Not only was he very popular amongst fans (at least in my view), it also appeared as if the show was gearing up for another season dominated, in part, by his presence. But it was not to be. There are a number of elements linked to Palmer’s assassination which made it so shocking: the attempted murder of fellow prominent individuals in the show, Chloe O’Brien, Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler (the latter was successfully eliminated) and the revelation at the end of the season that the man behind the orders was current President, Charles Logan. This one came out of absolutely nowhere, particularly for me as I did not watch the series when it aired (presumably word had gotten out that Dennis Haysbert, the actor portraying David Palmer, was leaving the show). 24 had a knack for surprises, but this was certainly one of the most shocking.

Carrie blows her cover in front of Brody — Homeland

(Season: 2, Episode: 4 — “New Car Smell”)

*I’m too good – she’ll never find out.*

Having been unsuccessful at getting Brody to admit he is working with a terrorist, Carrie storms into his hotel room and exclaims she knows who he is and what he is doing, before Brody is taken into custody.

It was fairly obvious that something similar to this was going to occur at some point over the course of the season, but not as early on as episode four. Carrie, believing Brody is on to her after a briefly showing anger during a conversation between the two of them, ends up storming up to his hotel room — with nobody else around — and blowing her cover in front of him. This was a tremendous moment in the shows short history, as the audience was provided with another amazing performance from Claire Danes (and Damian Lewis). As I mentioned a moment ago, this happened so early on in the season that it was hard to believe — at the time I wondered how the writers were going to fill another eight episodes. Thankfully the scene was more than warranted, as the happenings in this episode ended up prefacing events which occurred in the best episode of Homeland thus far — “Q&A”.

Ross says the wrong name at the altar — Friends

(Season: 4, Episode: 24 — “The One with Ross’s Wedding”)

“Wait… you’re not called Rachel?”

As he is in the middle of saying his vows during his wedding to Emily, Ross accidentally blurts out Rachel’s name instead.

Of all the names, Gellar. This was probably a lot more awkward than it was shocking, but it still was shocking nonetheless. The most unexpected moments are often left for the end of an episode, or better yet, the end of a season, and this one closed season five — leaving viewers reeling. The Ross/Rachel dynamic was more or the less the core of Friends throughout the shows existence, and I am willing to bet that the vast majority of fans did not want Ross to marry Emily when this episode aired (in 1999 I was watching Scooby-Doo, not Friends… I still watch Scooby-Doo), so when it looked like there was nothing else stopping the marriage from happening, Ross, in all his glory, surprised everyone — including himself — saving the day in return. Another great moment which kept the audience guessing and left them in high anticipation of season six, I am sure.

Charlie’s death — Lost

(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 — “Through the Looking Glass”)

I have nothing.

Charlie sacrifices himself to save Desmond, after turning off the transmission blocker and potentially saving everyone else on the island.

The finale of Lost season three really was a shocker alright. In fact, this particular moment is the most shocking in my experience of watching television shows, more so due to who was involved and what was happening to him, rather than it happening out of nowhere. Around the middle of season three it became apparent that Desmond could see into the future and had foreseen Charlie’s death. After Desmond had saved Charlie various times, everyone (well, me) began to believe that Charlie no longer had death in his foreseeable future. That was, until that damn Jack needed somebody to swim to an underwater Dharma station and turn off the transmission blocker. But again, after Charlie had swam down (followed by Desmond) and turned off the jammer, it appeared that he was in the clear. That was, until that damn Mikhail started flooding the station with water. Unselfishly, Charlie locked the door of the room he was occupying in the station in order to contain the flooding, whilst at the same time warning Desmond that the boat near the island was not Penny’s. A highly emotional moment. Somebody pass the tissues.

The end of Matt Smith as The Doctor — Doctor Who

(Christmas Special 2013)

It has not happened yet, but when it does I will weep.

I know Matt. I feel the same way.

So there they are, some of the most shocking television moments I have witnessed. Little Mo clobbering Trevor with an iron was another one that did not quite make it. As I wrote earlier, I have not seen every television show that has ever existed, and therefore I imagine there will probably be a second part to this blog post when I have watched more — hopefully including scenes from shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy and Dexter.

Comment below with the small screen moments that shocked you the most if you like!