Jesus saw fit to take umbrage with our little film festival and decided to knock out our power Easter evening just minutes before preparing to begin The Dead Outside. Clever bugger that he is, just five minutes or so after giving up and going to bed about three hours later, when the house and the world outside was dark and getting colder and colder, there was light.
You'd think he'd avoid the cliché, but what can you do?
So both Saturday and Sunday were devoid of zombie goodness, but Monday doth make up for it. Prepare, good children, as I bear witness to the artful restraint of Scotland's The Dead Outside and bask in the glory of Canada's Pontypool.
- The Dead Outside
- Director: Kerry Anne Mullaney
- Writers: Kris R. Bird & Kerry Anne Mullaney
- Scotland 86 min.
This is a pretty special film. Made on a budget of approximately £4,000 and shot over 15 days in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, writer/director Kerry Anne Mullaney has put together a remarkably artistic and disturbing piece of zombie cinema.
I'm not calling this a movie, because this has aspirations beyond just titillating you or bringing in some easy bucks. The performances are low-key and at times amateurish, but are never not believable. The script is skeletal in its structure, but gives you just enough to keep you interested. The direction is smart and artistic, choosing to focus on the psychological aspects of the story rather than wallow in gore or exploitation sleaze.
And I'm a viewer who loves gore and exploitative sleaze, believe you me.
I will admit to being a bit distracted as the film began, finding it hard to get a footing. The approach to zombies here is less on them as walking dead and more on them as after-effects of a viral plague that first turns you into a raving, violent loon, suffering from hallucinations and paranoia.
As such, our main characters, Daniel (Alton Milne) and April (Sandra Louise Douglas) provide two points of contact with this post-apocalyptic world. Daniel is shell-shocked after watching his wife and child succumb to the plague and the infected. April is possibly schizophrenic and dealing with killing her grandparents – and anyone who wanders onto the property.
It's all very claustrophobic and filming in Scotland in March gave it a natural bleakness. Everything is cold and subdued, with a pale visual palette that matches the characters' emotional states.
Honestly, it couldn't have happened better if it had been planned.
There's a cursory nod to a larger story and an outside world looking for a cure, but this is really a very intimate, almost private film about madness, loneliness, and loss. It's probably not a film that many people are going to give much of a chance (as demonstrated by Rotten Tomatoes' 19% viewer rating), but this is a well-crafted little film and provides an inspiring look at what you can do with very little money, but with some style and smarts.
- Director: Bruce McDonald
- Writer: Tony Burgess
- Canada 93 min.
This is a film that earned a Metacritic score of 54 out of 100 and viewers give it a 68% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That means that the majority of people watching and rating this film are fucking idiots.
Because goddamn if this isn't the most intense, clever, freshest approach to the whole survivalist plague genre that has been made in the past fifteen to twenty years then I'll eat my hat. This is the only film to get a second viewing in the Annual Easter Zombie Movie Marathons, even though there are no actual zombies in it.
Because it's that fucking good.
That it only brought in an estimated $32,000 bucks during its release is appalling. It cost $1,500, 000 to make, and for a low-budget film that's a lot of green. Now granted, it didn't have a wide release. Hell, it barely had a release at all. I can only hope that video revenues made this worth its while, because this is a film to be cherished.
You heard me. Cherished.
I haven't watched a film with a better script in years. The performances are spellbinding. Stephen McHattie's voice as DJ Grant Mazzie is a low growl that draws you in and keeps on the edge of your seat with its intensity. The money was clearly spent on equipment and that's the smart choice. We don't need another gore-fest that will be forgotten once Easter is over.
What we have here is smart, scary, and looks good. It looks real good.
There's not another film in any of these marathons that has gripped me like this one.
For the uninitiated, Pontypool is the story of a small Canadian town that is host of a viral outbreak unlike anything you've ever seen on film before. Like other films of this nature, we have a plague outbreak turning ordinary people into raving, violent cannibals. But get this. It's not spread by bite or blood. It's spread by language.
Certain words are infected.
When you hear them, they get caught in your consciousness, repeating like that song you can't get out of your head while you're trying to get to sleep. Then the meaning starts to slip and you can't express yourself anymore. You just repeat things that you hear without comprehension. Then, as director Bruce McDonald says, "you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation, you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person."
That's some fucked up shit right there.
The film pulls back from excessive gore, choosing instead to use selective moments of intense violence to punctuate what's happening, as our heroes, isolated in a radio station in the basement of an old abandoned church, narrate events and transmit reports from eye witness callers.
It's all very classic War of the Worlds radio-drama, and is so remarkably effective I can't believe that nobody's done it before with this genre.
While every aspect of this film is exceptional, the heart of it all is the script. Tony Burgess adapted his own novel, choosing to jettison most of the mind-bending linguistic tricks and horrifying first-person experiences of losing one's mind to the word virus (it's a helluva read – go check it out, too), and to focus instead on people who talk for a living having to deal with a verbal holocaust. Every character is written as a three-dimensional person with a history and life outside of this cold Valentine's Day morning, and the concepts tossed about by Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak), the only person with a clue about what is going on, are fantastic.
This is the sort of film that I watch movies in hopes of stumbling across.
They're not zombies; they're "conversationalists" that want to eat your fucking face. And I'm alright with that. It's scarier and more intense than nearly any zombie film of the last decade, and you should all go watch it right now. Or if not right now, as soon as you get home. Or later this evening.
Shit. I don't care when you fit it in, but you need to fit it in.
Pontypool is the best film of the 2012 Easter Zombie Movie Marathon, and the best film of any
Easter Zombie Movie Marathon. I can think of no better way to close out this year's festivities.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.