What began life as a book, became a film and ended up as an audio drama; which makes sense as infections like this tend to spread. Inspired by War of the worlds this shows the ‘dawn of the dead’ from one small radio booth in one small town on a very lonely Valentines day. This is…………………..
Not as you may expect from the title; a quaint drama about life in a small welsh mountain town, ‘Pontypool’ follows a strange outbreak in the aforementioned Canadian town and one radio announcers day. Now this isn’t like the old ‘Shadows of the Empire’ storyline which tried to keep everything consistent across its media though focusing on different aspects to suit its strengths this story is retold three times across the media changing the tale to best suit what it wanted to do and before we go on any further I haven’t read the book. Whether this means I’m missing some of the deeper themes that aren’t as obvious in the other two well tough.
Keen to identify if this outbreak is a genuine epidemic or another in a line of fakes Senator Vreenak has given up his life in the big city to become a shock jock early morning presenter for a small radio company on the tip of Canadian soil. Here he has to come to terms with things like alcoholic cops and an eye in the sky that’s really driving round in his car playing a sound effects c.d. This isn’t helped when things start going wrong, like mods crowding the streets and people eating others. This build up takes place over the first half of the audio play and for roughly an hour of the movie and thus far the audio play is winning. See if you’re here for a look at the outbreak of ‘world war z’ the movie is so amused playing with its own mixing desk and editing rig that it’s a little hard to hear and or follow at times, we especially feel for the main character when he’s told to come off the story for a bit to focus on an acapella group based on Lawrence of Arabia. Meanwhile in the audio play we don’t have time for such world building and when all you have is sound you can’t afford to obscure it in any way.
The cast is decent and works well with what they’ve got. The premise is original enough to warrant a watch or a listen for any fan of walkers though I will warn you of the art film like vibe that creeps in toward the end.
For those who want a bit more know that the film does indeed have a twist. Now typically I try to avoid going into the second and third act of a story to keep this blog spoiler free, that is unless I have some complaints about it so yeah, if you’ve accidentally come this far know that it does have a twist and it kind of ruins it.
We learn at about the mid point that unlike other zombie stories where it’s hell being to full to accommodate or virus on a bite or the wind this infection is different. Here it is the English language that has become infected; at least several key words of it. Now in the audio drama this gives the impression of a not quite successful Twilight Zone/ Outer Limits/ Black Mirror episode. It’s not terrible and it helps to make the zombie threat unknown once more presumably similar to what it once was when movies like ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ first came out. Of course it struggles to get around things like not being able to use the English language when they know this as it is an audio play with only the spoken word really at its disposal. Surely this is something the movie would do much better at? Well no. The movie already suffers from being bloated up to an hour and a half and downplaying the zombie apocalypse happening outside partly due to being clever with their sound desk and thus tying into the whole “thing” and partly due to it’s low budget. However surely when the infection is revealed this will come out on top due to the ability of movies to exist beyond language. Buffy managed one of its landmark episodes without sound and movies like the original Star Wars have boasted that you don’t need to understand what anyone is saying to follow along.
This movie takes ages to grasp the concept of a paper and pencil and only seemed to remember the idea of subtitles once they had decided to drop the whole speak foreign thing due to laziness. This clever idea, no apparent clue how to handle it and low budget collide in this last act as our two leads get drunk try to cure each other and then figure out if they should do something.
Now is it a bit mean to say that they didn’t know what to do with the idea they had. Probably but I’m going to anyway and the whole post credits sting, yes they have one it’s the law now, feels like it proves it to me. Originally the final scene of the movie it was pushed back due to being too confusing. In it we see our two leads operating under new “kewler” names in a a black and white filter. The idea and one of the big things of the movie is that it is only when you understand a word can the infection spread. Thus if they talk in cliche random gangster dialogue they are safe. We even see this falter in the same scene as key words of communication and affection appear and the colour begins to fade back in. Had the movie run with this, planned like a silent movie where the actors happen to be talking would have been a cool premise. A clever idea but one that needs handling carefully and intelligently. Hence why the end scene had to be removed and why the planned sequel still hasn’t emerged.