Returning after the ambitiously flawed drama The Tracey Fragments (2007), Canadian director Bruce McDonald offers a bizarrely original adaptation of Tony Burgess’s novel Pontypool Changes Everything. Taking place within a single location, a radio studio in small-town Ontario, the film centres around frustrated shock jockey Grant Mazzy, whose innovative views and delivery are wasted on routine news items such as school bus cancellations and missing cats. Joining him in the studio are producer Sydney, with whom he shares a tempestuous professional relationship, and his bright assistant Laurel. On a typically mundane morning, their ‘eye in the sky’ helicopter correspondent calls in with reports of disturbing behaviour downtown and unexplainable acts of violence. Switching between pre-recorded shows and live broadcast, the three attempt to investigate the situation using what facilities they have, soon discovering their own broadcasts may be contributing to the mayhem.
Despite the limitations of the single location, Pontypool uses the confinement to the radio studio to great advantage, giving the film an insular and paranoid quality that only unravels in the film’s last quarter, as the infected residents inevitably break through the studio doors. The impossibly peculiar situation is well channeled through the three characters, occupying a position of power through the radio airwaves, and the relationships between them are interestingly played, particularly the contrasting ideologies and sexual tension between host and producer. Stephen McHattie gives a brilliant performance as Mazzy; with his gruff vocal delivery and withered yet enigmatic appearance he inhabits the role of an ageing radio host perfectly.
While the virus reveals itself to be unnecessarily complex and quite confusing, the concept of danger being spread through language is an interesting exploration point for a horror film. To elaborate would give too much away, though a hilariously notable set-piece shows two characters desperately speaking in pigeon French to avoid catching the virus. Scenes such as this confirm Pontypool as an imaginative addition to the zombie/virus horror canon.
Pontypool will preview at the AND Festival in Liverpool on September 25. It opens in the UK on October 16.