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Review: Pontypool

Note: As many of the films screened at TIFF08 haven’t yet opened in theatres, only capsule reviews are permitted for most titles.

What if the English language was a virus that turned everyone into zombies? That’s the basis of Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s latest film Pontypool. Based on the Tony Burgess book Pontypool Changes Everything, the entire film is set at an AM radio station in the basement of an old church in the real Ontario town of Pontypool. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is the new morning radio jock who trashes the police on-air, makes fun of the locals, and appears to not like this gig too much. His producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) and young radio technician Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) try to keep him on track as best they can (people want to hear about school closures not drunk cops as Sydney points out).

Strange things are happening in Pontypool on this day though. When the radio station starts receiving calls from people mumbling or repeating the same word they brush it off as a possible hoax. Shortly after they get word from their traffic reporter that a large riot has broken out outside of a medical clinic and people are being trampled to death. When more strange calls come in (from listeners and their traffic reporter) Grant, Sydney, and Laurel Ann decide this is for real and lock themselves in the radio station, reporting on the events that are happening while not fully understanding themselves.

Whether Pontypool is a psychological thriller, horror, or black comedy is undecided (by the filmmakers and viewers alike). It’s equally creepy as it is funny, and thanks to the strong performances of the main cast – McHattie, Houle, and Reilly – the film has a believability to it that you wouldn’t expect. The tight script written by Tony Burgess and the tension built from McDonald’s direction make this an excellent film that will be talked about for years to come.

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