What could be worse than spending another crappy Valentine’s Day alone, drowning your sorrows into a box of cheap chocolate? Probably spending your day trapped inside a local radio station during a zombie apocalypse. For radio DJ, Grant Mazzy, his new gig in the town of Pontypool gives him a little more than he bargained for when the local residents mysteriously become violent.
Pontypool, directed by Bruce McDonald, is a psychological thriller adapted by Tony Burgess from his novel, “Pontypool Changes Everything.” The film centers around a Howard Stern-esque radio jockey (Mazzy), his producer Sydney, and technical assistant, Laurel-Ann, as strange occurrences begin happening on the outskirts of their Ontario town.
The movie begins very casually, following Mazzy as he trucks through a snowstorm on his way to his morning shift at the local radio station. While at a stop sign, Mazzy is startled by a woman who unexpectedly bangs on his car window, mumbling something before quickly disappearing. The radio personality, clearly bothered, is unsure of what to make of the incident and continues on his way to work.
Mazzy’s last job isn’t really explained but from his boredom and pompous attitude toward the mundane news stories he must discuss, it can be assumed that he once worked at a more prestigious and exciting place. Throughout the beginning of his morning shift, the DJ makes numerous efforts to liven up his act, resulting in scoldings from his producer, Sydney. Then, an interesting story is brought to the station’s attention, and the group slowly realize that something bigger is going on around them.
News comes in of a disturbance at a local medical office and the radio station’s weatherman, Ken, is sent to the scene to investigate. Ken calls in to Mazzy and explains that there is a mob of angry people rioting outside of the building and things suddenly become violent; Ken becomes hysterical as he explains to Mazzy–on the air– that people are being killed.
Eventually, Ken calls back with more details and news of what is happening begins spreading rapidly, even making it’s way over to their BBC affiliated news station. Sydney gets a call that their small town of Pontypool has been quarantined and the group must remain inside of the radio station. The three individuals begin to panic because they have absolutely no idea what is going on; the only connection they have to the outside world is through their listeners who call in with information.
Pontypool is different than a lot of zombie movies that we have seen because rather than an infection spread by blood, the virus is spread through words; more specifically, the English language. Mazzy and Sydney, along with a doctor, discover that the violent and rambling inducing virus is caused by an infected word with a particular meaning to a particular person. When an individual comes across an “infected word”, they begin losing themselves entirely, resulting in zombie-like behavior.
The idea that Burgess created for his zombie story is complex, complicated, and very unique. The idea itself is very intelligent and almost satirical, making a statement about the power of words and what they can do to an individual. I did enjoy the idea and most of the movie; however, I felt like a part of the film was not executed in the right way.
I like simple movies that require a lot of thinking, without showing and explaining too much of what is happening. I was in love with the film’s setting; just three individuals stuck in a radio station, unable to really see what was happening for themselves. The situation and atmosphere that was created was very unnerving and terrifying because the audience is in the same boat as the protagonist’s; we are as much in the dark as they are, which helped to build the fear.
There is not much blood or gore and we do not see most of the action, rather, we hear it, just like Mazzy, Sydney and Laurel-Ann do. This idea also feeds onto Burgess’ message about words and their power. While the radio station remains in the dark on the situation, relying solely on the words of others, they are simultaneously putting themselves at risk of being infected, which forces them to make the choice of whether or not to talk at all.
The idea was smart and the acting was spot on, making the situation seem truly believable. Stephen McHattie played Mazzy perfectly and almost effortlessly, and his voice is insanely alluring and addicting. Lisa Houle was also believable and likeable as Pontypool local, Sydney.
Here’s where my problem with the film comes in: Dr. Mendez makes his way into the station. First of all, how was he able to carelessly make it past the hoard of angry zombies which were posted out in front and around the radio station? I was able to overlook that bit. Then, Dr. Mendez starts to talk, explaining the situation centering around Pontypool.
This whole exchange between Mendez and Mazzy just didn’t sit well with me. Yes, it was a way to explain what was happening in the film, however, I felt like Mendez’s way of speech was almost comical; he just seemed like a caricature and I found it hard to take his scenes seriously. I wasn’t sure if scenes that occurred after Mendez’s arrival were supposed to be funny or not, because a lot of it seemed random and just weird.
However, considering the film as a whole–the idea, the actors, the setting–I still really enjoyed it and thought that the film was a great watch. Some people may not agree with me and that’s fine; let’s agree to disagree. I do feel like the film was smart and refreshing and its pace was perfect for my liking. Some will argue that this isn’t a zombie film but it is; a zombie can be whatever you want it to be and Mcdonald and Burgess made their own type of zombie.
If you have an open mind and don’t mind not seeing everything unfold in front of you, then you’ll most likely enjoy this film. The movie did falter slightly toward its second act following the appearance of the doctor, however, I was able to overlook those faults and really enjoy the film as a whole. Check it out.