Modern Horror films rarely take their time unfolding, usually pounding visceral material early and often. But Pontypool, the new film from Canadian director Bruce McDonald (The Tracey Fragments), slowly engulfs the viewer, containing the entire film within a single location then utilizing a complex sound design to surround the space with offscreen terror. This makes the opening act a highly effective re-invention of the Zombie apocalypse, as disc jockey Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and his small crew try to make sense of the shocking eye-witness accounts phoned in from their small Ontario town. Conflicting stories from panicked citizens blur the situation and Mazzy’s cocky arrogance soon turns to sincere fright. McDonald handles these early scenes with delicate care, using close-ups to pressurize character emotion as the exterior audio feeds begin to grow more extreme and the walls of the underground radio station close in.
But the brilliant ambiguity of the first half quickly dissolves into random exposition and contrivance as McDonald attempts to explain the cause of the violent outbreak and mass psychosis, ultimately lessoning and simplifying the impact of the set-up. The words of the script end up defiling the haunting audio storytelling taking place, and our imaginations aren’t able to run wild any more. Which is a shame, because at its best, Pontypool ambitiously deconstructs the end of the world down to a series of screams, pleas for help, police sirens, and helicopter gun fire. As Mazzy and company listen in horror, we are forced to wonder when and where the damn will break, and McDonald layers on the possibilities using frequencies of sound and to contemplate a new form of interior destruction that words should never describe.