TV Party is a new Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
“Sydney Briar is alive.” That sentence will mean a lot to you by the end of the criminally underseen Canadian horror gem Pontypool, and it’ll likelier than not send a chill down your spine at the recollection of it in context. But, backing up, it’s also a reference to Sydney (Lisa Houle), the head producer of an unremarkable, backwoods radio station in Ontario. Each morning she comes in to oversee the news, give the locals the weather, and corral Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), an ex-shock jock whose punishment for past on-air sins is the lead host role on a banal drive-time radio show. It’s just Sydney, Grant, and Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), a war vet who works as an assistant, and the endless sounds of local choirs, idle town gossip, and weather updates from Ken in his news helicopter.
That is, until all hell breaks loose. Pontypool never leaves the station, but the terror of its premise doesn’t come from what may or may not be outside; other than Ken’s increasingly disturbing weather dispatches and some strange reports coming in over the news wire, it’s unknown for much of the film what’s happening outside, or its proximity to the suddenly terrified trio indoors. The film goes for a more cerebral form of terror, one that explores the idea that there’s more than one way to transmit a virus, one far more dangerous than any bite in the world. The film slowly builds to a hallucinatory, nightmarish pitch, until its feverish final scenes offer a vision of a world untethered from order and even sanity. It’s a micro-budget masterpiece of the form.