Pontypool Film Review: The Power of Ideas


Directed by Bruce McDonald
Written by Tony Burgess
Starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly

Pontypool: a typically small, close-knit town in Canada where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Gossip spreads like wildfire…as does a strange contagious infection that turns the isolated community into mindless zombies.

But this is no ordinary zombie movie. The story is set in the sound booth of the town’s radio station where Grant Mazzy, a former big time DJ, hosts his daily talk show for the surrounding locals.

Grant, his producer Sydney and the technical assistant Laurel-Ann start the day in a pretty ordinary fashion; Grant irritates Sydney, Sydney shouts at Grant, Grant flirts with Laurel-Ann and Laurel-Ann coyly enjoys the attention.Everything seems normal until a report comes in from the police detailing a riot at the local doctor’s office.

The riot causes destruction and an increasing number of deaths as people trample, murder and even start to eat each other. Pontypool’s weatherman, Ken Loney, telephones into the station and describes the strange, erratic and repetitive behaviour displayed by the townspeople; they seem to be confused, focusing on certain words and saying them over and over until becoming fully-fledged zombies.

Eventually, from discussions with the local doctor and from witnessing the zombies that break into the station, it is established that the English language is the root of the disease. When certain words of it are spoken and understood by certain people, the infection spreads. The newly created zombies must then pass the infection on to others or else they self-destruct.

This powerful low-budget movie manages to capture the tone of a terrifying epidemic with little visual clues.Only a small number of zombies manage to enter the radio station and so most of the information we receive about the plot of the film is through whispers, discussions and telephone calls. The film is incredibly sound-based as the trapped characters try desperately to listen out to the goings on of the outside world.

The plot itself is obviously implausible and extremely odd, yet it works brilliantly. The idea is so unique that one can’t help but be completely invested in its premise and even after the credits roll one’s thoughts focus on the odd twists and turns of the narrative. The theory that language and knowledge can become infectious obviously brings forth discussions pertaining to society and its ability to ‘infect’ itself, whether that be with a real disease or a figurative one.

I found the film quite funny at times, which not only shows that the filmmakers were fairly self aware of the plot’s ridiculousness but it also made the whole thing incredibly endearing. The humour also helped to gloss over a few overlooked plot holes when the explanation ‘we just don’t know’ didn’t cut it at times.

Overall Pontypool reminded me of the power that ideas can have and how incredibly influential a good and original idea can be. It demonstrated that a bold theory can make up for a low budget and lesser-known (yet still talented) actors. It also made me hope that the old, tired plots reproduced by Hollywood year in and year out would reach their shelf life and make room for some fresh blood because, until then, stand-out films like this one will be continuously overshadowed by monotony.

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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