There’s never been a zombie movie like PONTYPOOL, a funny and intense
Canadian import with possibly the nuttiest explanation for zombiedom
I’ve ever encountered.
Canadian cinema’s resident anarchist Bruce McDonald, of
HIGHWAY 61, HARD CORE LOGO and THE TRACY FRAGMENTS, apparently wanted to
adapt the novel PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING by Tony Burgess (not to be
confused with the guy who wrote A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) since its initial
publication in 1998. It took McDonald a decade to realize his ambition,
although the 2008 film that emerged, scripted by Mr. Burgess, has little
to do with the text, sharing only the overall concept (introduced in
Neil Stephenson’s cyber classic SNOW CRASH, a copy of which is visible
at one point in the film). Not to worry, though, because PONTYPOOL is
apparently the first film of a projected trilogy, with parts two and
three intended to properly flesh out the events of the novel.
Grant Mazzy is a disgraced shock jock broadcasting from
a tiny radio station in Pontypool, Ontario. On his way to work one night
a seemingly crazy woman thumps Grant’s car and then fades into the
darkness--and the night only grows steadily crazier from there!
After enduring a lot of pontificating from his bitchy
producer Sidney, Grant is made privy to a bizarre event unfolding in the
area: a doctor besieged by a rabid mob. The station’s roving
“helicopter” reporter (actually a guy in a car) gets caught in the
melee, and an on-air BBC reporter queries Grant about an apparently
deadly epidemic afflicting Pontypool. Then there’s a goofy music group
called into the studio, one of whom, a little girl, begins babbling
strangely. All of this is a bit too much for Grant, who attempts to bolt
from the studio.
But a blizzard outside forces him back in--that and a
mob of babbling zombie-like freaks converging on the station! Also in
the area is the doctor Grant reported on earlier, who enters the station
through a window. The doctor knows the source of the contagion spreading
the insanity: the English language itself.
Apparently a disease has gotten into the language,
transmitting itself through the spread of certain key words that when
processed by the brain turn the thinker into a babbling freak who craves
human flesh. This disease has afflicted much of the population of
Pontypool, and before long claims a new victim: Grant’s young technician
Laurel-Ann, who begins babbling and acting weird. Grant and Sidney find
themselves trapped in the recording booth, desperately trying to find a
nonverbal way of communicating with each other and the outside world.
PONTYPOOL isn’t a great film by any means, but as a
tight, claustrophobic chamber piece it works quite well. Over ninety
percent of the film takes place inside the besieged radio station, with
much of the action conveyed through dialogue. While not a comedy, it is
quite comedic in spots, and there’s little in the way of bloodletting
(so I’m sure many of you will probably want to steer clear of the film).
Bruce McDonald commands attention by keeping his camera
moving, particularly in the early scenes, but never excessively or
distractingly so. He’s further blessed with an excellent performance by
veteran supporting actor Stephen McHattie as Grant, who commands
virtually every scene and is given terrific support by Lisa Houle (McHattie’s
real-life spouse) and Georgina Reilly as his frazzled station mates.
Weird though it is, the film overall is a
straightforward thriller far removed from the anarchic quirkiness of
McDonald’s previous films. However, it contains many eccentric elements
(such as a montage of contagion victims) that set it apart from the
standard zombie movie fray.
Maple Pictures/Crescent Raid Films
Director: Bruce McDonald
Producers: Jeffrey Coghlan, Ambrose Roche
Screenplay: Tony Burgess
Cinematography: Miroslaw Baszak
Editing: Jeremiah Munce
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak