Pontypool (2008)

I’m gonna skip to the punchline here:  This is an amazingly strong, effective, and original movie.  Pontypool will challenge you to understand what exactly is going on and will challenge the way you think about language and the way language affects the physical world.  Pontypool is written by author Tony Burgess.  The novel’s full name is Pontypool Changes Everything and is part of a trilogy of books Burgess calls “The Bewdley Books.”  The first in the trilogy is The Hellmouths of Bewdley (1997), then Pontypool Changes Everything (1998), and then Caesarea (1999), the concluding book.  Burgess is not your typical writer.  The man has a philosophy behind the ideas in his books; ideas he’s been examining for decades.  As he himself writes on the back cover of Caesarea, “[I] began performing ideas in the late seventies and began writing them down in the early eighties.  By the nineties [I] began organizing things into books.”  In the product description of The Hellmouths of Bewdley, we’re told that “Burgess believes there is a shape that fact and fiction both seek, that narratives occur in defiance of the things they harbor.”  This is a truly fascinating idea.  Simply put, language and words and speech affect the physical world and the “verbal” seeks a way to shape the world in which it is spoken, regardless of the intention of the “speaker”.  Ok ok; sorry for the heady stuff (that’s my Ph.D. in philosophy rearing its ugly head).

author Tony Burgess

It’s a damn good thing Burgess himself wrote the screenplay for the movie Pontypool because there’s no way in hell anyone would have been able to capture the core ideas of the novel.  (And please note that the novel and film are two entirely different creatures).  I couldn’t imagine what a fucking train wreck of a film this would have been had someone like Eric Heisserer (the force behind the Nightmare on Elm Street remake) wrote the screenplay!!





director Bruce McDonald.

Pontypool is directed by Bruce McDonald.  You may know him from his Hard Core Logo (1996), which is a faux-documentary in which McDonald follows around the the punk band Hard Core Logo on a reunion tour.  (Interesting piece of trivia for ya:  Hard Core Logo stars Hugh Dillon as lead singer Joe Dick.  Dillon was the front man for the real Canadian hard rock band The Headstones).  McDonald does an excellent job with this material and shows an amazing amount of restraint.  He takes his time developing the characters and creating a very “heavy” atmosphere.  If there was ever a film that creates something out of nothing, Pontypool is it (I know this statement doesn’t sound like a good thing, but see the film and you’ll know why this is a huge compliment)!!  As strong as the direction is, the real success of Pontypool rests squarely on the shoulders of actor Stephen McHattie who plays radio DJ Grant Mazzy.  McHattie puts in another amazing performance and has quickly become, at least in my book, one of the genre’s greatest actors working today.

Stephen McHattie as DJ Mazzy

As the film opens we follow Mazzy driving in to work for the morning shift at the radio station.  Its just another cold, dark, miserable morning in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario.  Director McDonald takes his time setting up the characters (there’s only three main characters here) as we see Mazzy, his producer (played by Lisa Houle) and the radio technician (Georgina Reilly) going through their daily routine of weather reports, school closings, and boring news items (interesting note; there’s only 18 actors listed in the credits, and 7 of them are only voices calling into the radio station).  But then a report comes in over the police scanner that a large mob has assembled outside a local doctor’s office.  The reports are vague and unconfirmed but slowly the mob becomes violent and everyone starts attacking and killing each other.  This is brilliantly executed here and is so tense because we’re confined to the radio station and DJ booth just like our three main characters are.  We learn about and uncover the story just as the actors do.  We don’t know anything more about what’s happening.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you watch this unfold.  It doesn’t take long before the walls start closing in on that radio station and you’ll feel as claustrophobic as the girls did in The Descent!!  What would be a gimmick in another film becomes the backbone of the story and the reason McDonald is able to build so much tension and suspense.  He’s totally playing off our fears of the unknown, of mass hysteria, and how the mind needs to make order of the chaos around us.  I’m telling ya people; this is a smart fucking movie!!

There’s plenty of creepy images!!

McDonald does a fantastic job of giving us just enough info to move the story along but also holding back in order to keep the tension high.  It seems that a very odd virus has broken out; one that has infected certain words in the English language.  Once infected you become very violent and are compelled to spread the virus to others (the virus is spread through the English language itself).  Understanding the infected words is what makes the virus replicate.  So the (possible) cure?  We need to stop understanding the meanings of words.  Yes it’s a wild fucking premise, but it’s beautifully executed through excellent performances and great direction.

Don’t be fooled; blood is spilled here!!

This is a tight, suspenseful, and intelligent movie that has a low budget-indie feel to it that you quickly forget about because you immediately get sucked into the story.  I categorize this one as a “metaphysical” horror flick (I include John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness in this category).  This movie makes ya use your brain, but it also doesn’t forget that at the end of the day its a genre flick and is suppose to scare and entertain you.  Let’s face it; this is one of the most original zombie flicks you’re ever gonna see.  There isn’t a ton of gore, but what there is is extremely effective and juicy.  Don’t miss this one people, but whatever ya do just make sure you don’t “understand” it too much.



Another great poster for Pontypool!!

My Summary:

Director:  Bruce McDonald

Plot:  5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  3 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

20 Responses to “Pontypool (2008)”
  1. autumnforest says:

    Beautiful, just wonderful! Smart and original!!! Wahoo! I can’t wait to see this. BTW, that was a killer review. You have a way of taking something so complex and making it accessible and visual. I had this on my list of ones to see, but now that you’re reviewed it, it’s at the top of my personal queue.


    • Thanks for the nice words AutumnForest!!! Definitely move this one up to the top of your queue. Its not often that a movie scares me by making me think about it, but this one is just brilliantly written and executed. I’ve watched it a few times already.


  2. Demian says:

    Yes I really enjoyed pontypool. I was a little dissapointed in the last third of the movie. Definitely the most intelligent movie I have seen in awhile.

    This is one of your best reviews. You descibed the movie perfectly.


  3. mykill furie says:

    An intelligent and well written review of an intelligent and well made film. Pontypool is a favorite of mine for all the reasons you mentioned. Cheers!


    • Thanks so much for the kind words mykill furie!! I was just so blown away by that film that it actually took me about 3-4 drafts to get the review the way I wanted it. I’m glad you enjoyed the review!!


  4. l3pr3chaun says:

    I missed this one and will now have to check it out!


    • Definitely check out Pontypool Bill … you’ll really love it. I do over-intellectualize it, but at the end of the day its an extremely well made, tense, and original flick. Let me know what you think of it after you see it.


  5. SendMoreCops says:

    Scott, as always, an excellent review that takes difficult material and makes it accessible and (dare I say it on a Pontypool board) understandable. Honestly, I could listen to the McHattie opening over and over and over and never grow tired of it – his voice is perfect for a radio personality – Pont du flaque – panty pool – ponty pool…

    I highly recommend checking out the director/writer commentary on the DVD – McDonald and Burgess give great insight into this one, but even moreso into their plans for the 2nd and 3rd films. If they’re to be believed, your gore score is going to increase with each film.


    • Thanks Bill. The commentary is definitely great!! I have still yet to hear any news of a Pontypool 2. As you can imagine, Pontypool didn’t make a whole lot of cash (although it was praised by critics). I hope the same people filmmakers make a part 2 & 3, but I doubt we’ll ever see it.

      Glad you liked it Bill!!


  6. Deggsy says:

    Your review encouraged me to watch this last night, and once again you have failed to disappoint me. The movie, including the excellent cast, direction and set, achieved such a stronger sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty about the nature of the virus than many bigger-budgeted movies have done, and you’re right, the origin and nature of the virus and how it affects people was both original and gripping. A biological virus at least has some possibility of a vaccine stopping it. How do you stop ideas?
    I’ll be remembering this one a lot longer than many other inferior offerings…


    • PONTYPOOL was one of the most surprising films I’ve seen. I absolutely loved every second of it and loved how the story unfolded. There’s another film called DEAD AIR that takes the PONTYPOOL idea and makes it a little more accessible for the masses. Its not a bad flick at all but it doesn’t have nearly any of the clever ideas PONTYPOOL has.


  7. v says:

    I must say I enjoyed your review and movie… However, can someone explain the ending!? (After the credits) I don’t get it! Did they start the virus?? I’m confused!! 🙂


    • Thanks V … but I must admit that it’s been over a year since I’ve seen PONTYPOOL and I don’t remember the details of the ending at all. When I have the time I’ll check out the ending and give you my thoughts.


Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] credits under his belt including HARD CORE LOGO, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER TV series, and of course PONTYPOOL – perhaps the most unique take on the zombie film to date. HELLIONS is written by Pascal […]


  2. […] credits under his belt including HARD CORE LOGO, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER TV series, and of course PONTYPOOL – perhaps the most unique take on the zombie film to date. HELLIONS is written by Pascal […]


  3. […] makes me happy!! Filmmaker Bruce McDonald, the mind behind the fantastic 2008 meta-horror film, PONTYPOOL, has just gotten his latest horror offering, HELLIONS, picked up for international distribution by […]


  4. […] makes me happy!! Filmmaker Bruce McDonald, the mind behind the fantastic 2008 meta-horror film, PONTYPOOL, has just gotten his latest horror offering, HELLIONS, picked up for international distribution by […]


  5. […] so much. Writer Tony Burgess is no stranger to more headier horror films. He wrote the 2008 film, PONTYPOOL–which is based off his novel. I’ve liked all of Burgess’ projects and […]


  6. […] filmmakers, Bruce McDonald. In the horror world, McDonald is most well known for the 2008 film PONTYPOOL, written by Tony Burgess and considered by many to be an “unfilmable film.” Well, […]


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