Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Killed by Words, by damn words! You're dead just reading this!

We are using the language incorrectly and it is killing us. We are surrounded by textspeak, a country with an average reading age of seven and no ability to determine the difference between they're, their and there. We are crawling towards newspeak and the inevitable newthink that will provide.

People are closer to the Bill Hicks trope of "What are you reading for?" and in one of the previous buildings where I worked, one call centre worker proudly scoffed about how he'd not read a single book since age eleven. What a c**t.

Anyway, I saw a film. That's what all of this is about. I saw a film from Canada and it was low budget, but kind of fun. Pontypool. But not the Welsh one, the Canadian one. I know, I wasn't aware of that either, and what a name to choose. It's based on "Pontypool Changes Everything" which sounds a bit mad.

We're introduced to an old radio dj who wants to be Howard Stern and anyone else vaguely controversial. Actual controversial, not Chris Moyles cuntroversial (and I bet Censor-Bot doesn't block that, see how I flaunt these loopholes in e-mail rules!) He has two women working with him, his producer and a young Afghanistan war vet who's their techie and looks like she's only just old enough to be in a teen tv show. I'm surprised I've not seen her in Degrassi, my teen show/trauma vehicle of choice.

Things start simply enough although they bicker on and off-air constantly about the dj wanting to rant and the producer wanting him to get on with local news and weather (delivered by a man in a car pretending to be in a helicopter). There are hints things aren't right like people not being here in the radio station/disused church for work. Then we start getting information called in to the station about a riot outside a doctor's office. The terms used are not only indicative of a zombie outbreak, but simultaniously not. There's word of people piling on folks, of them babbling the same thing over and over, about U-boats and things like that.

Confused, the rebellious dj breaks the news, but isn't sure what's going on and when pressed by the BBC keeps things under wraps. Auntie thinks it's terrorists, which in Canada seems like a weird idea. What's there to bomb? Who'd want to kill LoadingReadyRun? Given I've never heard your stance on them, possibly you, but I'm a fan. The portrayal of the BBC seems to be that they're looking for confirmation on their own beliefs rather than finding something out. That's a bit more American isn't it?

Anyway, contact with the outside lessens and lessens until we get a few moments where you wonder if any of the cast are infected as they're saying strange things or repeating phrases. One of them, it turns out, is. The Afghanistan vet girl starts making a high pitched noise and isn't responsive, about the same time as a Groucho Marx/Robert Winston-looking doctor turns up. He's escaped the riot of zombies outside his surgery and provides exposition with easily the worst acting in the film. They lock themselves in the radio booth as the war vet techie starts looking for them. At first she's acting normal, but can't seem to see them when she can't hear them. Then she attacks the glass of the booth, running into it head-first. Then she starts eating her own mouth. When I was kicked in the mouth at age 12 or 13, pushing a couple of teeth through my lower lip, I did develop a slight habit of gnawing at the giant bloody scab to stop it growing over my face. A horrid habit. Still, she takes it a bit far. Then, looking like a low-rent Joker, she continues headbutting the glass before vomiting herself inside out and dying.

During all of this, the doctor explains that it's the language which is infected! Yes, you heard me. The English language is infected. A bit Grant Morrison, so I'll let it slide. It's a strange premise to undertake, but why not. It can't be any less reasonable than Zombie Rednecks' infected still or Condemned 2's sonar hubcap things.

More audio-zombies appear, repeating anything that's said and banging against the glass of the booth. Communicating in writing, then in French, the dj and producer determine that the doctor's crazy and when they come up with a way to ditch the infected, they flee.

The fleeing and talking in French fall through a few times. I don't know if their repeated giving up on the French is to fill a quota of English in a film to allow an American release (which is, if I recall correctly, a real thing).

The escape fails hideously but the dj realises something which again, ticks the Grant Morrison buttons. I'm realising I keep going back to the mad scotsman as a frame of reference, but he is my favourite comic book writer and if I will watch surreal films, then comparisons will be made. Anyway, the cure. Apparently it's to make the words lose sense. Say something enough, write something enough and it starts to lose meaning in your head. The infected words seemed to be words of love, hate, anything with emotional resonance.

Deciding to do the right thing rather than escape, the dj and the cured producer head back down to the booth and start spreading the cure by saying word-substitution gibberish. We hear helicopters overhead and as our diminished cast say random things, we don't know if the 'cure' is setting in and we can hear the helicopter believing that our babbling duo are infected. They're acting just like the zombies after all. One of the things I guess I've not touched on as much is the idea that apparently the infected are people flipping out as their aphasia and their mental faculties are going all wibbly. Then, much like Night of the Living Dead and any zombie movie with government types, it's explodey doom time.

We get the inevitable scene during the end-credits where we hear noises that the virus isn't just in Pontypool anymore. Then a coda which is a bit more Kill Bill than anything else. I'm not sure why it's there, but the style it, and the mass obituary section earlier are shot very prettily. I'm sure it makes some kind of sense.

The acting's ropey in places, although the dj is fantastic. As we're almost always on his face, the fact that it looks like some kind of alien landscape helps. He looks like Timothy Olyphant's dad in any western he's been in. Cowboy clothes, gravel voice, and a pair of bug eyes which just help the bizarre landscape we see. Other than that the acting's a little off in places and only helped by things going weird. Maybe that's what they were aiming for.

The horror's alright, more suspense than anything else and that's going to bore the f**k out of the people I'll inevitably show this to, and most horror junkies out there. There's little gore (yay!) and only a few jump-scares. It's more the isolation and the uselessness of the cast to deal with the situation which brings the horror. Everything happens out there, out of our view. We're trapped, waiting for the inevitable.

This film could be about our current issues with language, as per my rant earlier, about our relationship with each other through language. It could be about the military's attitude towards friendly fire although that's brought in at the last second. It could be about many, many things, or it could be about some freaky arse zombies in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes a zombie is just a zombie.

I give this the Grant Morrison rating of Platypus out of Verisimilitude.

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