Pontypool (film)

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Promotional film poster
Directed byBruce McDonald
Produced byJeffrey Coghlan
Ambrose Roche
Screenplay byTony Burgess
Based onPontypool Changes Everything
by Tony Burgess
StarringStephen McHattie
Lisa Houle
Georgina Reilly
Hrant Alianak
Rick Roberts
Boyd Banks
Tony Burgess
Rachel Burns
Music byClaude Foisy
CinematographyMiroslaw Baszak
Edited byJeremiah Munce
Ponty Up Pictures
Shadow Shows
Distributed byMaple Pictures
Release date
  • September 6, 2008 (2008-09-06) (Toronto International Film Festival)
  • March 6, 2009 (2009-03-06)
Running time
95 minutes
Box office$32,118[1]

Pontypool is a 2008 Canadian horror film directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess, based on his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.[2][3]


In the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, radio announcer Grant Mazzy is accosted by a nonsensical woman who repeats the word "blood" several times before staggering away.

At the radio station, Grant's shock jock style and on-air persona irritate his technical assistant, Laurel-Ann, and station manager, Sydney. Helicopter reporter Ken Loney calls in with a report about a riot at the office of Dr. Joe Mendez that has resulted in numerous deaths. After Ken is unexpectedly cut off, the group tries to confirm his report, but their witnesses are disconnected before being put on the airwaves. After they are contacted by the BBC for breaking the story, Ken calls back and says he has taken refuge in a grain silo. He describes the rioters as trying to eat one another or even themselves. When one of the rioters attacks the silo, Ken's call is interrupted by an audio transmission in French.

Laurel-Ann translates the transmission, which is an instruction to remain indoors, not to use terms of endearment, rhetorical discourse, or the English language and not to translate the message. Pontypool is declared to be under quarantine. Ken calls back again and gets his phone close enough to his attacker so that his murmurs of "Help me" in a baby-like voice are audible. A horde of people attack the radio station, and Grant, Sydney, and Laurel-Ann lock themselves inside. Meanwhile, Laurel-Ann begins repeating the word "missing" and imitates the sound of a tea kettle.

Dr. Mendez arrives at the radio station through a window and hides with Grant and Sydney in the soundproof booth. Ken calls in and, while on the air, succumbs to the virus. Laurel-Ann begins to slam her head against the sound booth's window and chews off her lower lip. Mendez hypothesizes that a virus has infected certain words in the English language; only certain words infect certain people who then find another infected person to kill themselves with. Sydney receives a call from her children, only to hear them becoming infected. Outside the booth, Laurel-Ann vomits a large amount of blood and falls down, dead. Mendez suspects this has happened since she failed to find a victim.

The horde then breaks into the radio station, attacking the sound booth. Sydney draws the mob outside with a looped recording of Grant's voice saying 'Sydney Briar is alive". When he fears that he is about to succumb to the virus, Dr. Mendez begins to speak in Armenian upon realizing that the virus is exclusive to the English language, which prevents the virus from taking over. When the recording fails, the mob returns but Mendez lures them away, saving Sydney and Grant, who now lock themselves in the equipment room.

While Grant tries to figure out how to reverse the symptom, Sydney begins to succumb to the word "kill". Grant convinces her that the word "kill" now means "kiss" and her symptoms subside. Hoping 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. An explosion can be heard when the film cuts to black.

Over the black, news reports of further outbreaks of the virus suggest that the quarantine failed, spread by the news itself and eventually reaching England, the source of its targeted language. In a post-credits scene, Sydney and Grant survive the virus and continue speaking English by maintaining a system of improvisational roleplay as the screen shifts from black and white to color.



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.[4] It was simultaneously produced as a motion picture and a radio play.[5]

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.[3]

According to McDonald, the final scene of Grant and Sydney, now presented in a kicker, was originally placed 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.[6]


Rue Morgue and ChiZine Publications held a special screening of Pontypool on 3 December 2009 at the Toronto Underground Cinema and following the screening, it featured a Q&A with Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, and Tony Burgess.[citation needed]

The film was released theatrically in Canada on March 6, 2009. The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 25 January 2010.[7]


Pontypool received generally positive reviews from critics, currently holding an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 86 reviews; the consensus states: "Witty and restrained but still taut and funny, this Pontypool is a different breed of low-budget zombie film."[8] On Metacritic, which uses an average of critics' reviews, the film has a rating of 54/100, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]

In 2018, Consequence of Sound ranked Pontypool the 42nd "Scariest Movie Ever Made".[10]



  1. ^ Pontypool at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Holden, Stephen (2009-05-28). "A Surprise Is in Store for This Shock Jock". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b "McDonald Describes Pontypool's "Infected"". ShockTillYouDrop.com. Coming Soon Media. August 26, 2008. Archived from the original on March 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
  4. ^ Turek, Ryan (August 26, 2008). "McDonald Describes Pontypool's "Infected". ShockTillYouDrop.com. Archived from the original on March 16, 2009. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  5. ^ "Worldplay: Pontypool for World Drama". BBC World Service. June 21, 2009. Archived from the original on September 12, 2009.
  6. ^ Halfyard, Kurt (6 March 2009). "From Pontypool to the Metaverse in 98 minutes: A Conversation with Bruce McDonald". Twitch Film. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  7. ^ Barton, Steve (December 17, 2009). "Pontypool Finally Heading Home on DVD – US and UK Artwork". Dread Central.
  8. ^ Pontypool at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ Pontypool at Metacritic
  10. ^ Consequence of Sound

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