Review: Bruce MacDonald’s ‘Pontypool’

by Christine Estima


Stephen McHattie in Pontypool

Rated: 8/10
Maple Pictures
Directed by Bruce MacDonald, starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Hrant Alianak, Georgina Reilly

Imagine zombies have taken over small town Ontario. More specifically, English-language zombies. And the only way to prevent yourself from becoming one of them is to speak French.

Oh, the Quebecois are going to love this movie.

The premise of Pontypool is just that. Grant Mazzie (Stephen McHattie) is a shock radio DJ, demoted to a small-town station with simple reports on the school bus and weather reports. But as increasing gossip reaches the station of riots, murders, people speaking in tongues and cannibalism occurring throughout Pontypool, Ontario, Mazzie and his small station crew are forced to stay holed up inside their basement HQ while the chaos ensues just beyond their bricks and mortar.

Directed by Bruce MacDonald, this psychological thriller plays out very much like The Blair Witch Project, where the villain is often talked about, but never seen on screen for the majority of the film, thus leaving the horror to our imaginations. And it works. The fear is very real in Pontypool as the station staff slowly become infected as well, leaving them to wonder if they are spreading the language-virus over their airwaves.

The performances by McHattie and Lisa Houle (who are married in real life) are the most compelling. Pulling off genuine fear is not an easy task (see Drew Barrymore in Scream and then compare and contrast). Houle and McHattie make it personal and even, at times, make us believe they are annoyed by how scared they are. Watch out for an appearance by Toronto-theatre extraordinaire Hrant Alianak as the doctor on a quest to cure the English-virus. McHattie’s voice is probably the main character, as his deep testosterone-laden chords resonate his fear, his burgeoning understanding of the crisis, and of what’s to come.

There is very little gore and guts in this flick, and it’s all the better for that. This isn’t a slasher horror that gets off on the scream factor. It’s intelligent and leaves you asking questions long after leaving the cinema.

Even though director MacDonald completely rips off the ending to Don McKellar’s 1999 flick Last Night (complete with the countdown, the kiss,, don’t forget to stay put until after the credits roll for a little Humphrey-Bogart-esque homage to the afterlife. Trust me, it’s worth it.

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