Pontypool (film)

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Promotional film poster
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Produced by Jeffrey Coghlan
Ambrose Roche
Screenplay by Tony Burgess
Based on Pontypool Changes Everything 
by Tony Burgess
Starring Stephen McHattie
Lisa Houle
Georgina Reilly
Hrant Alianak
Rick Roberts
Boyd Banks
Tony Burgess
Rachel Burns
Music by Claude Foisy
Cinematography Miroslaw Baszak
Edited by Jeremiah Munce
Ponty Up Pictures
Shadow Shows
Distributed by Maple Pictures
Release dates
  • September 6, 2008 (2008-09-06) (Toronto International Film Festival)
  • March 6, 2009 (2009-03-06)[1]
Running time
95 minutes
Country Canada
Language English
Box office $32,118[2]

Pontypool is a 2008 horror film directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.[3][4]


In the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, former shock jock turned radio announcer Grant Mazzy drives through a blizzard on his way to work. When poor visibility forces him to stop his car, an underdressed woman appears on the road, startling him. Grant calls out to her, but she disappears into the storm, ominously repeating his words and visibly disturbing him. Grant eventually arrives at the radio station, where he works with technical assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond, who has recently worked in Afghanistan, and station manager Sydney Briar, a divorcée who is very critical toward Mazzy's shock jock style.

As the morning proceeds, Grant's on-air persona irritates Sydney. They get a report from their helicopter reporter Ken Loney (which Sydney reveals to Grant is a man parked in a station wagon on a hill with sound effects mimicking a helicopter) about a possible riot at the office of a Dr. Mendez. He describes a scene of chaos and carnage that results in numerous deaths. After Ken is unexpectedly cut off, the group tries to confirm his report, but their witnesses are disconnected before they can put them on the airwaves. Ken calls back and reports that he has found the "infected" son of a well-known citizen nearby, who is mumbling to himself. Before Ken can hear what the son is saying, the call is again cut off, this time by a startling transmission of garbled French.

The transmission is an instruction to remain indoors, not to use terms of endearment, phrases that conflict, or the English language. Pontypool is declared to be under quarantine. Ken then manages to call back, this time close enough for Grant and the women to hear the infected son's mumbling, which is nothing but "Mommy" in a child's voice. In confusion and disbelief, Grant tries to leave the station, but a horde of people attack, and Grant, Sydney, and Laurel-Ann lock themselves in. Meanwhile, Laurel-Ann begins demonstrating erratic behavior. She fixates on the word "missing," repeating it over and over, then imitates the sound of a boiling kettle. Dr. Mendez enters the studio and Grant, Sydney, and Mendez lock themselves in Grant's soundproof booth.

Mendez explains his theory: somehow a virus has found its way into human language, infecting certain words, and only certain words infect certain people. Once these infected words are said and understood, the virus takes hold of the host. As he explains, Laurel-Ann repeatedly slams against the sound booth's window, chewing off her lower lip and splattering blood with each attack. Ken calls in again and, while on the air, he also succumbs to the apparent virus, repeating the word "simple".

Outside the booth, Laurel-Ann opens her mouth and vomits a large amount of blood and gore before falling down, dead. Mendez suspects this has happened since Laurel-Ann failed to pass the infection on to a new host. The horde then breaks into the radio station, attacking the sound booth. Sydney records a loop of Grant saying "Sydney Briar is alive" and plays it over the station's outdoor loudspeaker as a diversion to lead the mob away. Dr. Mendez begins to repeat the word "breathe" but immediately begins speaking in Armenian, which stifles, but fails to eliminate, the symptoms. Mendez surmises that it is only the English language that was affected by the virus. Grant and Sydney, speaking in French, leave him alone in the booth. They are nearly killed when the recording fails and the mob returns, but Mendez successfully lures them away from the studio. As his voice is heard crying "Sydney Briar is Alive!" repeatedly, Sydney says, "He's saving us."

Feeling guilty for killing an infected young girl, Sydney begins writing on the wall of the safe room upstairs where she and Mazzy have locked themselves. "My name is Sydney Briar and today I killed a girl. I am so sorry." To indicate time has passed, we soon see the wall covered in Sydney's scrawl. When Sydney suspects that Grant is about to cannibalise her, she begins to succumb to the word "kill". Grant then attempts to "disinfect" Sydney by convincing her that the word "kill" now means "kiss". He urges her to repeat "Kill is kiss" over and over again, and her symptoms subside. She tells Grant to "kill" her—he then proceeds to kiss her. Armed with knowledge on how to stop the virus, the pair go on the air, spouting a series of self-contradicting and confusing phrases to help their infected listeners, ignoring warnings from the authorities who are trying to get them off the air. While an amplified voice from outside counts down from ten, Sydney joins Grant in the booth and they kiss once again. As the countdown finishes, the screen goes dark and the credits roll.

Audio vox pops and broadcasts play over the credits, reporting further outbreaks of the virus, suggesting that the quarantine failed. After the credits, the scene shifts to a radically different view: a stylized black-and-white version of Grant and Sydney in what looks like a far-eastern atmosphere. They give each other new names: Mazzy becomes "Johnny Dead-Eyes" and Sydney is "Lisa the Killer." As Grant describes his plan to "get out of here", the picture gradually shifts into color. According to director Bruce McDonald, the post-credits scene was originally the final scene of the film, taking place before the credits. However, audiences in early screenings found the original ending to be too confusing, so the scene was moved behind the credits instead.[5]



Pontypool is based on Tony Burgess' novel Pontypool Changes Everything. Burgess adapted the material for the screen himself. According to McDonald, the writer hashed out a script in 48 hours. Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds inspired the approach that they decided to take.[6] It was simultaneously produced as a motion picture and a radio play.[7]

Filming took place in Toronto, Ontario, rather than in Pontypool itself.

At Rue Morgue's 2008 Festival of Fear expo, director Bruce McDonald stressed the victims of the virus detailed in the film were not zombies and called them "conversationalists". He described the stages of the disease:

There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it's words that are terms of endearment like sweetheart or honey. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can't express yourself properly. The third stage you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person.[4]


Rue Morgue and ChiZine Publications held a special screening of Pontypool on 3 December 2009 at the Toronto Underground Cinema.[8] After the screening, it featured a Q&A with Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, and Tony Burgess. A poster for Pontypool is featured in the film The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

The film was released theatrically in Canada on March 6, 2009. The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 25 January 2010.[9]


Pontypool received generally positive reviews from critics, currently holding an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "Witty and restrained but still taut and funny, this Pontypool is a different breed of low-budget zombie film."[10] On Metacritic, which uses an average of critics' reviews, the film has a rating of 54/100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11]



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