June 27, 2009 by abbyo
Preface: I’ve been studying abroad for the last few weeks in the UK. Currently I’m in Edinburgh and managed to snag a ticket to a movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Here’s what happened.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival is an experience I still can’t believe I got to have. It’s one I think I will remember for the rest of my life. The festival is very efficiently run, by people who truly love film and want nothing more than to help the viewers have a good time seeing movies too. I haven’t experienced any other film festivals so far, so I don’t really have anything to compare my experience with, but it seemed surprisingly easy for ordinary joes/josefinas (like me) to see the films. There are multiple screenings, easy to read charts telling you what movies are open where, all the tools you need to see what you want. This festival is very well established, too. This year marks its 63rd season.
I had been planning to see something at EIFF ever since I knew my visit to Edinburgh would coincide with the festival. To my delight, I got to see “Pontypool,” the very movie I had been hoping I’d get to check out. A couple of friends and I grabbed tickets and went to last night’s premiere screening at the Cameo theater. Not only was this the EIFF premiere, it was also the UK’s premiere screening. How cool is that, right?
It all started when we first arrived at the Cameo, after what turned out the be the premiere of “Boogie Woogie.” Our first good omen was running into Alan Cumming as he left the screening (he’s in the movie). He was wearing a very attractive purple kilt. Considering the film’s awesome cast, I’m surprised we didn’t see anyone else (if I’d seen Danny Huston or Stellan Skarsgaard, I would have had a siezure). But that’s beside the point.
As I said before, the movie we saw was “Pontypool,” Bruce McDonald’s Canadian film about a small-town radio station caught in the middle of an unexplainable plague that turns people into zombie-like creatures. McDonald insisted in the Q and A (there was a Q and A!!!) that they weren’t reallly zombies, and I’m inclined to agree.
Where to start? This movie was everything I hoped it would be. Adapted from the novel “Pontypool Changes Everything” by the book’s author, Tony Burgess (who sounds like a real character-he’s banned from entering the U.S. on an armed robbery charge), “Pontypool” takes a lot of cues from Orson Welles’ infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast. It relies much more on suspense and reports coming in from the outside than the viewer seeing actual virus victims, blood, guts or gore. Everything happens inside of the tiny radio station and the church it’s housed in. The result is an atmospheric little horror gem that’s claustrophobic, darkly hilarious and completely off the wall.
The movie would certainly not be what it is without the lead performance of Stephen McHattie, who plays Pontypool DJ Grant Mazzy, a shock jock for whom Pontypool is a last resort. McHattie is a charismatic, wild-eyed guy who brings total fire and edge to his performance. He’s also got an amazing voice. His creepy, deep, reedy voice provides the film’s opening monologue, a bizarre stream-of-consciousness anecdote played over footage of sound waves. From the very moment McHattie starts talking, you know: this movie will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
The movie’s other major presence is Lisa Houle (McHattie’s real-life wife), who plays Grant’s beleagured producer, Sydney. Houle brings a lot of weariness and sympathy to her character. It would have been easy to play Sydney as whiny and stubborn, but Houle makes the audience understand what her character goes through. She’s a small-town woman who’s not used to dealing with a determined, big-minded guy like Grant. The people dying in the film are people she’s known almost all her life. All this weight and worry in the performance communicates these sentiments clearly to the audience.
Make sure, when seeing the movie, that you stay until after the credits. There’s a neat little extra scene. It’s pretty bizarre in the context of everything else, but still super cool. Bruce McDonald explained the significance of it to us, but I wouldn’t dare ruin it. I’ll leave it to your imaginations to try and make sense of it.
Like I mentioned, Bruce McDonaled, the movie’s director (he also made “Highway 61” and “The Tracey Fragments”) did a Q and A after the movie. Nobody knew this was going to happen, so of course it was a terribly exciting surprise. I gasped audibly when it was announced (I know, I know, geek). McDonald, it turns out, is a super friendly, down-to-earth guy. He answered questions at length, told jokes, was generally awesome.
The icing on the cake came after everything let out, and my friends and I actually got to meet McDonald outside the theater. We exchanged a few stories and talked about music (he’s working on a concert movie about Broken Social Scene, for those interested). In general, he was a great guy to talk to, which made me appreciate “Pontypool” all the more.
So, that’s all from Edinburgh! It was an amazing experience that I really hope I’ll get to have again sometime in the future. I don’t think I could have picked a better movie to watch at EIFF than “Pontypool.” For those of you stateside, the New York opening was fairly recent, either this week or last week, I believe, and is being distributed by IFC. If you get the chance, see it. You will be glad that you did.