Pontypool

Pontypool

Bruce McDonald has never been a conventional director, so it’s no surprise Pontypool, his first horror picture, breaks all the rules. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a shock-jock radio host that has been banished to the morning slot in a small Ontario town. As Sidney (Lisa Houle), the show’s producer, tries to keep Grant on […]

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Bruce McDonald has never been a conventional director, so it’s no surprise Pontypool, his first horror picture, breaks all the rules.

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a shock-jock radio host that has been banished to the morning slot in a small Ontario town. As Sidney (Lisa Houle), the show’s producer, tries to keep Grant on schedule for school bus updates and traffic from Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) in the Sunshine chopper, the world outside their little studio goes mad. Reports begin to pour-in of people attacking other people en masse. The town is overrun by a virus that infects the English language and turns the infected into a race of babbling, flesh-eating zombie-types.

McDonald may be new to the genre, but he certainly knows how to make an effective movie. With the proliferation of violence and blood in recent horror pictures, McDonald opts to minimize both in Pontypool. Horrific things are happening just outside the doors to characters the audience have come to know, but the extent of the carnage is left to our imaginations. Eyewitness accounts direct the mind’s eye and one demonstration informs it, but the rest is left for interpretation, which is the brilliance of McDonald’s approach – even though you never leave the confines of the church basement in which the radio station is based, it never occurs to you that you should.

For the most part, only the key concepts of the virus and a couple of characters are carried over from Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything, on which the film is based. However, for those familiar with Burgess’ prose, Grant’s command of language often conveys the same sort of awe. His ability to verbally stretch a tidbit of information into an extensive dialogue is remarkable.

McHattie is no doubt the star of this picture. His delivery of the quick-witted, fast-paced lines is outstanding. That said, this is an actor’s film – in a small space, the camera is always on someone and there’s no place to hide – and everyone’s exceptional contribution makes the film great.

The metaphors in this film are up for interpretation, which is precisely what the filmmakers hoped for. The political implications of words inciting violence are in evidence around the world – genocides and civil wars occur on simple verbal directions. A somewhat more concrete example is the radio station’s name – “the Beacon” – which is ironic because the infected are drawn to healthy voices.

Everything comes together in this film: the acting is incredible, the image is high-quality, the pace is good and the storytelling method works absolutely.


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  • In my opinion Bruce’s unique take on the zombie film seperates it from the seemingly never-ending flow of living dead films flooding the market. Pontypool is an intelligent film full of screams and smiles. This is truely one to be remembered and talked about for years to come.

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