December 2, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Pontypool

starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, & Georgina Reilly
directed by Bruce McDonald
written by Tony Burgess (based on his novel)
Maple Pictures (2009)

Just when you think you have seen it all in zombie horror and all things that allude to zombies, a movie like Pontypool comes along.

It's winter and shock jock Grant Mazzy hates winter. He also hates working in a small town radio station in the wake of his fall from grace--imagine Don Imus if he'd actually lost his job over that racist comment he made a few years back. So he's looking for just about anything on the job to get a whiff of his former glory, which doesn't sit well with his bookish producer.

Pontypool is a little rinky-dink town somewhere in Quebec where nothing really happens. Heck, their "eye in the sky" traffic reporter drives around in a jalopy car and pretends to be calling into the station from a helicopter. Just that folksy charm kind of stuff that drives Mazzy up the wall. But at least this day has something worth talking about, because reports are coming in that violence is breaking out across town for some unknown reason.

The entire film is shot within the confines of a church basement where the radio station exists, and hardly any of the violence is shown on screen. The characters only get to react to the phone calls and internet reports they receive, and the occasional noise they hear from outside. It's isolating and claustrophobic--and fantastic for a filmmaker on a tight budget.

Stephen McHattie is fantastic as Grant Mazzy. His voice is gravelly and acidic, like any good morning disc jockey you've heard. And his scenes of wide-eyed aghast expressions are priceless. It particularly fun when he starts noticing people around him are succumbing to this outbreak of zombie-esque behavior that is spread not by blood, disease, or some supernatural element. It's transmitted through words, a radio personality's bread and butter. And that's part of what makes this movie so fun to watch: the characters trying to figure out if words really are responsible and how they can actually avoid making things worse as they broadcast the crisis over the airwaves.

I liked this movie quite a bit, and I think it speaks well of a film adaptation when watching one makes me want to read the book it's based on even more. I definitely want to read Tony Burgess's Pontypool Changes Everything one of these days.


  1. PONTYPOOL was very good, even old school in an Orson Welles/War of the Worlds broadcast kind of way.

  2. Yeah, I kind of got that vibe too during the first half.