Pontypool is a Canadian independent film shot on location in Pontypool, Ontario, directed by Bruce McDonald, who previously made the Ellen Page vehicle The Tracey Fragments, which I did not enjoy in the least. It was adapted by Tony Burgess from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything. The screenplay was supposedly written in a mere 48 hours, which is impressive to me given that it is almost solely dialogue driven. It was inspired by Orson Wells’ infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Pontypool is a killer virus movie, or depending on what your definition of a zombie is, a zombie apocalypse film. It is, in my opinion, a far more effective horror film than 28 Days Later. It’s very well acted, directed, and intelligently written, so I think it would have a much broader appeal than a movie like 28 Days Later. Before I get to that though, here is the plot.
Grant Mazzie (Stephen McHattie), a once big time radio broadcaster who lost his job, has found employment in the small town of Pontypool, working for the local radio station, broadcasting from the basement of a church. On his way to work, he comes across a woman, out in the cold, dark, snowy early morning hour. She babbles incoherently for a few seconds and then disappears into the nothingness. This is the start of the greatest day in his life as a broadcaster. Finally, at work, he is faced with the utter banality of his new life with weather reports and school closings. He tries to shake things up by angering the listeners, which is how he feels it is done, in a desperate attempt to give his life new meaning, but is confronted by station manager, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), who tells him to stick to things the listeners care about. Also working at the station is Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly), the assistant who has just returned home from a tour in Afghanistan.
It’s just another dull day until their field reporter, Ken Loney (Rick Roberts), calls in from the “sunshine chopper”, which is actually his Dodge Dart parked on a hill, when he witnesses a mob at Dr. Mendez’s office (Hrant Alianak), which turns violent, resulting in casualties and death. From then on things spin wildly out of control, and eventually the good Doctor finds his way to the station for refuge, and explains to them that there is a virus transmitted by using the English language. More specifically than that, certain words such as terms of endearment only exacerbates the situation, seeing as how it’s Valentine’s Day. Virus movies are nothing new to be sure, but I am not aware of any other one that involves language. Trust me; it is executed much better than it sounds.
This movie takes place entirely within the radio station. None of the action going on outside is ever seen. While there is enough going on in the station to satisfy the conversationally impaired, it does involve much talking. I’ve always said that if the dialogue is good enough, I’d be more than happy to watch a movie that involves nothing more than two people sitting at a table and having a conversation. Well, that’s what this movie consists of primarily, but it is written so well that I could not stop watching, and the tension builds very quickly, which is a testament to how good the script is. Stephen McHattie carries the movie on his shoulders, as he spends the majority of the film delivering one quick-witted monologue after another. Grant is a guy that I’d want to listen to on my radio station, and he comes off as someone who doesn’t take any shit, but has a good heart at the same time. Lisa Houle also delivers a good performance, balancing her no-nonsense attitude with just wanting to survive and see her children again. Not for one second did I want to go to any other location. Staying inside the radio station gave me a palpable feeling of claustrophobia, like any good snow-bound movie such as The Shining or The Thing, even though they weren’t necessarily snow-bound in this one.
Independent and foreign films are where it’s at these days. For me it’s both. I wish the suits in Hollywood would take the time out to watch these great, low budget films and analyze them carefully. You just don’t need $30 million dollars to make a quality horror film, and maybe their reliance on CGI and intricate set design is what’s killing them, because they forget about things like plot, characters and dialogue. They’ve also forgotten how to tell a simple story, and over complicate things making them excessively convoluted. I want more movies like Pontypool, and I hope this writer and director team get together again for an entirely new story. This time the score is a no-brainer – A perfect 4. One of my favorite movies to come out in a few years, although I must say that list is getting longer and longer lately.
Robert A. Newberry
©2010 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.