director Bruce McDonald
Wow. I don’t know why I’d left Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool in my queue for so long before finally deciding to watch it.
Okay, I take that back. I guess I do know. I saw McDonald’s Hard Core Logo (1996) some years back and really hated it. While his name and films have continued to percolate into my radar, I guess I’ve always held that in the back of my mind. Additionally, because of Netflix’s design presentation of films both on the web and on their streaming services, all I really was reminded of was its title, its release date, its general subject and its Canadian-ness.
But wow. I found this to be a really interesting movie. Stephen McHattie (who is excellent here) plays Grant Mazzy, a snarky talk radio DJ who finds himself banished to Pontypool (Canadian Siberia, if I get the metaphor right without checking a map.) Right from the get-go, things go sideways for this small operation of him, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and their technical assistant, Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) when reports start to surface about riots, attacks, and quarantines affecting their county. Are they being pranked? Or is something cataclysmic happening?
For one thing, the film is largely limited to the interior of the radio station studio, not unlike the limited locations of a play (apparently McDonald and writer Tony Burgess actually adapted this as a radio play as well.) It’s an interesting and economical approach to a zombie/mass panic story where most of the action is off-screen, yet true dread and drama builds through the actors’ performances and suggested events.
On top of that (Spoiler Alert, of sorts), the nature of the chaos and outbreak find their root in language, a sort of virus of semiotics, which triggers a breakdown in the victim, ultimately resulting in violence. The nature of this disease unfolds with mystery and strangeness, enhancing the drama occasionally quite effective. Some might find this explanation of the events as a let-down. It’s a somewhat intellectual disorder at heart, quite explicitly meta more than truly a real pathogen. I quite like this, but I’ve been reading some philosophy texts of late so maybe that’s why it struck me so.
McDonald commands the film well, utilizing sound and image effectively, his cast are all very strong, which is also critical in a film with so few actors.
Frankly, I was really impressed. Surprised and impressed. A cool and interesting film.