Pontypool (2008)

Rating: C-

Dir: Bruce McDonald
Star: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak

Talk-show radio host Grant Mazzy (McHattie) heads to his job on the morning shift, unsettled by a strange encounter with a woman on the way. When he starts his show, he crosses swords with his producer Sydney Briar (Houle, McHattie’s wife in real-life), over Mazzy’s abrasive personality; Briar feels his approach is just not appropriate for the provincial, rural station at which they both work. However, this issue is put aside when they get a report from their traffic correspondent – supposedly in a helicopter, but that’s really just sound effects – describing a strangely-behaving mob who are attacking a doctor’s surgery. The craziness spreads, with those infected also attacking and killing people.

Mazzy and his team struggle to work out what’s happening, based on the sketchy data available to them; they eventually figure out that the psychosis can indeed be transmitted, but it’s apparently language-based, with the victims being attracted to the English language. Which, given our heroes are located inside a radio-station, is definitely not a good thing. Can they find out an antidote before they become part of the problem? While it’s certainly one of a kind, as “zombie” films goes – director McDonald rejects the term, prefering to call them “conversationalists” – the phrase that sums this up best is, “too clever for its own good.” It starts off really well, with McHattie, who we’ve enjoyed in various supporting roles, sinking his teeth magnificently into a role which is as much about small-town mentality as anything else.

The fragmentary nature of the information arriving really cranks up the tension, and it’s easy to imagine this being how things would unfold. But, really… language? It’s apparent the script is trying to say something Very Deep about bilingualism, both in the setting and the way French does not transmit ther disease. As for what that might be, however, your guess is as good as mine. Though I certainly applaud the intention of attempting a more intellectual approach to the genre, the film gradually vanishes up its own, ah, conversationalist, and interest evaporated long before the final, nonsensical scene.