Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Halloween List: Pontypool and Southbound

Welcome back to The Halloween List! I'm already overjoyed with this project, as it's giving me fascinating movies to watch during otherwise grueling exercise sessions. I'm gradually rebuilding my lung capacity on the elliptical, which is great to do, but flares up my neuromuscular syndrome. A good show or movie takes my mind off things, and today's features definitely did that. I'm still thinking over the strangeness of Pontypool.

"What's Pontypool?" you ask. Well...

Pontypool (streaming on Netflix)

If Twilight Zone had never gone off the air, it might have eventually produced stories this weird. That’s my way of saying I loved it.

Mazzy, Sydney, and Laurel-Ann work at the only radio station in the tiny Canadian town of Pontypool, Ontario. It’s a breeze of a town, with one main road, and their “weather helicopter” is a guy in a car who parks on top of the tallest hill. We spend the entire movie with the radio jockey and his producers as they get reports of a hostage situation on the roads, and then of a mob striking a doctor’s office, and then the office literally exploding… with people. What they learn and have to report is increasingly strange, baffling and inviting both them and you to piece together what nightmare is befalling their town out there.

It harkens back to old radio dramas, except rather than depriving you of a visual medium, you’re instead put alongside these radio employees in their little station, hoping for dispatches from someone who knows anything, or if they can pray for it, for help.

It could just be a paranoid thriller from thereon and be a totally successful movie. But Pontypool doesn’t settle for that. Its cast is quixotic, from Mazzy, the rambling disc jockey who’s probably on the verge of being fired, to the impossibly racist music guests who’s forced to put on the air while his partners are following the story, to all the baffling bits of town lore that sprout up as people begin dropping.

In many ways this feels like a bunch of characters cut out of a Coen Brothers movie, trapped in a radio station, being forced to report on the strangest disaster ever. Especially if you have U.S. Netflix, I can’t recommend it enough.

Southbound (rentable on Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube for 3.99)

I’m happy to see Anthology Horror is growing in support and popularity. Trick R Treat and V/H/S are particular favorites of mine, and Southbound comes from a few of the same people who produced V/H/S. This time out they’ve made a collection of short films that loosely interlink, all on the theme of traveling along a stretch of abandoned road. The stories include people who break down and have to spend the night with odd locals, a man running into a hospital only to find it vacant, and a late-night attack on a roadside motel.

None of the premises are bad, they’re all just well-worn. The trouble is that few if any of the entries feel like complete stories. Those girls spend the night with creepy locals, something creepy happens to them, and… that’s it. It’s a far cry from Trick R Treat’s Halloween pranksters who prank a local girl, only to have their prank come alive and stalk them.

The merit instead is that one story’s non-conclusion leads into the start of another. The survivor of one story runs into the street in the middle of the night as the protagonist of the next drives through. One story’s mysterious voice on a phone winds up belonging to a character in the next story, and that’s very creepy for a moment. The movie ends on its cleverest connection, which I promise not to spoil.

But those moments of connective tissue don’t create a sense of a full world, and don’t make up for a lack of satisfying arcs in the individual stories.


  1. The last part of Pontypool didn't quite live up to the first part for me, but it was an effective and unique film.

  2. Yay for building up your lung function. And for distractions from the pain.
    I hope the neuromuscular syndrome issues can be balanced against the improvements.

  3. Pontypool sounds like a fun movie. (We love Cohen brothers, except for when they don't get too morbid.)

  4. I can't believe I haven't heard of Pontypool before! I grew up in a genuinely weird small Ontario town. There's a nascent sub-genre of horror fiction called "Canadian gothic", and it always makes me smile how much of the really creepy stuff is just observational.


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