Another day in Pontypool
February 24, 2022 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Originally released back in 2008, Canadian indie horror flick Pontypool [trailer] is a modern zombie tale quite unlike any other. Loosely based on a dense, complicated novel by Tony Burgess and inspired by Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, it tells the story of Grant Mazzy, a grumbling yet likable radio host (played by veteran character actor Stephen McHattie) whose penchant for philosophical ramblings gets him booted from Toronto to the sleepy winter pastures of Pontypool, Ontario. One bleak morning, as the outspoken Mazzy chafes against no-nonsense producer Sydney Briar (played by McHattie's wife Lisa Houle!), disturbing news begins rolling in of a series of bizarre and violent incidents sweeping the town. Trapped in their church basement broadcasting booth, Mazzy, Briar, and intern Laurel-Ann Drummond struggle to understand the odd nature of the crisis and warn the wider world before it's too late. But this is no ordinary virus, and they find their efforts may be causing far more harm than good. You can watch the film on YouTube or Kanopy, but if you're pressed for time you can also experience it in its more logical form: as a one-hour BBC radio drama [ audio version] voiced by the original cast (albeit with a different ending). And after the credits, make sure not to miss the film's playful non-sequitur coda [analysis] -- which was spun off into the buckwild 2020 "sequel" Dreamland starring McHattie, Houle, Juliette Lewis, and Henry Rollins.

Key scenes:
Opening - I Hate Winter - Lawrence of Arabia - Ken Loney in the Sunshine Chopper - Tiny Little Baby - Obituaries - Kill is Kiss - Word association
Grant's final monologue from that last clip, which has some resonance in light of current events:
You’re just killing scared people. It’s what you always do. You’re killing scared people. You are like dogs, you smell fear and you pounce. Well, what the fuck happened today, folks? Someone took a buzzsaw to your middle and they pulled out a wheeling devil, and they spilled it right across your anthill! But you know what, friends? We were never makin' sense. We were never making sense. And today, today when Armageddon leached out in your good, good mornings, you know what? It’s just another day. Another day in Pontypool! The sun came up, you did what you did yesterday, and it’s exactly what you’ll do tomorrow. Today’s news, folks, today’s late-breaking developing, just-across-my-desk news story is this: it’s not the end of the world, folks. It’s just the end of the day.
Pontypool on FanFare, including this notable comment on thought-terminating clichés.

Director Bruce McDonald discusses a possible sequel, tentatively called Pontypool Changes (or perhaps Typo Chan)

"Language is a virus from outer space." -- William S. Burroughs

Focus on Film: Pontypool and the Horror of Imagination

Screen Anarchy: Pontypool Is The Canadian Quarantine Movie To Fuck With Our Current Headspace

Footage of the 2010 Pontypool stage adaptation PONTYPOOL LIVE: Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five

This rebroadcast post brought to you by #DoublesJubilee. Truly a jubilee, doubly. A jubilee. Indubitably.
posted by Rhaomi (28 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Rhaomi, you are a machine of great posts.. always something of interest to me, anyhow. Thanks, I really enjoyed this film when it was released and I plan to explore your links.
posted by elkevelvet at 3:25 PM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yes! One of my favourite movies. I really should see Dreamland.
posted by rodlymight at 3:27 PM on February 24, 2022

Thanks! I've got it down to a process now this far in the month -- copy the text of the old post into a new one, check for broken links, and then add any new stuff that's happened in the intervening years. Compared with writing a post from scratch, it's a lot easier when the basic structure of it is already there.

(Also, almost forgot one link: The full soundtrack vinyl on YouTube!)
posted by Rhaomi at 3:29 PM on February 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

I really should see Dreamland.

How the hell did I not know that existed? What's wrong with me? I dunno. It's been a long pandemic? Anyway, that's on the watch list now.

But thanks for this post! Pontypool is great, and there's lots to explore around it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:43 PM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Pontypool was promoted to me as "a zombie film with a twist" but it's so much more interesting than that! Love this film.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:52 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

"The Thinking Person's Zombie Film" (I think I heard this quote from Jaymz Bee?)

If you haven't seen it, you should watch it. I should watch it again.

In loosely related conceptual-language-conundrums: 'Embassytown' by China Mieville.
posted by ovvl at 4:28 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is wild! I was just thinking about Pontypool yesterday. Must be a ripple effect.
posted by KGMoney at 4:34 PM on February 24, 2022

I really should see Dreamland.

How the hell did I not know that existed? What's wrong with me? I dunno. It's been a long pandemic? Anyway, that's on the watch list now.

Ditto on all counts. Next you will be telling me there is Godfather Part II.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:38 PM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

See also Slouching Toward Bedlam, one of the true greats of second-wave interactive fiction, which works on a similar premise and contains some very creative interpretations of the typical "save," "restore," "undo," "restart" etc. commands.
posted by lorddimwit at 4:39 PM on February 24, 2022 [6 favorites]

Ted Lasso and Semantic Satiation
posted by Rhaomi at 4:45 PM on February 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

I kind of wish people would stop calling it a zombie film, because it’s a very different beast, even though it has superficial similarities. Kind of like trying to shoehorn Cannibal Holocaust into folk horror. It is a masterpiece, though.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:18 PM on February 24, 2022

There is always a typo in the word, 'Pontypool'.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:34 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

mandolin conspiracy: "How the hell did I not know that existed? What's wrong with me? I dunno. "

Think about how I feel! I'm in the movie business, well the ass end anyways, and I complain constantly that no one watches Canadian movies and here I didn't even know Dreamland existed. Fuckin embarrassing.

Incidentally, Pontypool is a cute town and was, from about 1920s to the 1970s, the summer destination of working class Jews from Toronto trying to escape the humidity and racist pools & beaches of Toronto.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:53 PM on February 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Ah... I see why I haven't heard of it - I don't think Dreamland got a proper release in Canada.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:59 PM on February 24, 2022

Would this appeal to someone who can't really tolerate being scared or grossed out unless it's REALLY worth it? (ie Parasite, Get Out)
posted by bleep at 6:42 PM on February 24, 2022

You may be familiar with one of Stephen McHattie's previous roles...
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:22 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

lorddimwit: See also Slouching Toward Bedlam
When my friends and I watched Pontypool, and we realised the twist together, I straightaway had to tell them about this game. I had the same impulse when I saw this thread. It seems you did also. Which is worryingly on topic if you think about it.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:53 PM on February 24, 2022

bleep: "Would this appeal to someone who can't really tolerate being scared or grossed out unless it's REALLY worth it? (ie Parasite, Get Out)"

There is limited gore for one character, who is seen with a bloody Joker-esque laceration across the lips and later vomits blood in a pretty telegraphed way, but that's about it. Other violence is either described or kept offscreen. In terms of scares, there is one jump scare (sudden static in a radio signal). Otherwise the tone of the film is more eerieness, dread, and simmering tension than non-stop thrills and gratuitous gore.

As for if it's worth it? Well I'm biased but for me it's one of the best, most thoughtful slow-burn horror movies of all time -- fascinating premise, great writing, top-notch character acting, and highly rewatchable.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:06 PM on February 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Aw man, I think that this is one of those movies that I keep hearing about and keep thinking, "Yeah, I gotta watch me that one of these first days," and then kind of forget about it. But on YouTube? No excuse, and then I'll look up Dreamland because Rollins is in it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:27 PM on February 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

You guys keep referring to that in one of the links? A movie?
posted by zardoz at 9:46 PM on February 24, 2022

Check the last sentence above the fold! FWIW, it's not a literal sequel to Pontypool, more of a spinoff using characters similar to the (totally different) ones in the coda.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:06 PM on February 24, 2022

Pontypool stands out in the very crowded market of zombie films in that it's a story that focuses on the way information about an outbreak spreads as well as how the infection itself spreads. Most other zombie movies are simply "if you get bit, you get turned" and then it's about humans vs. zombies (or more often than not, humans vs. humans vs. zombies).

I would strongly recommend it, even if on the surface it seems like low-budget horror movie fare.

Also, there was a thread doing the rounds on twitter or tumblr about wanting more movies set in radio stations and I couldn't agree more.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:00 AM on February 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is a great movie, and I had the pleasure of going into this relatively blind with a French-Canadian friend of mine from Montreal.

In the FanFare discussion a number of people seemed to lament the inconsistency that the disease is isolated to English, but I couldn't care less. The English/French dynamic that emerges at the end is deeply hilarious to Canadians and justifies it 100%. I can't remember the exact line, but at some point near the end the French-Canadian military tells the protagonists, "You have to stop talking, the English language is sick." My friend an I were so blown away by how funny that was we couldn't even laugh.
posted by Alex404 at 1:38 AM on February 25, 2022 [13 favorites]

Well, now we know. Communication can infect a person and make them into someone that is different from the person they used to be. They can end up part of a violent mob, they can become erratic and dangerous. We've heard multiple stories of older parents that have been exposed to too much (insert media of choice here) and become... different. Of children sucked into the same sort of vortex (other media of choice here). Pontypool was never fiction, just a warning.
posted by Wetterschneider at 10:07 AM on February 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

> Wetterschneider: "Communication can infect a person and make them into someone that is different from the person they used to be"

Indeed. It's been hard for me to observe things like QAnon, antivax movements, MAGA, incel forums, and Gamergate and not think of Pontypool.
posted by mhum at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

Oh wow, I haven't thought of this movie in years. This is fascinating, that there are so many related things about it. Thanks for this cool post and for giving me a reason to revisit this fantastic little movie.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:34 PM on February 25, 2022

How do you know it's a Canadian production? Well, is Stephen McHattie or Callum Keith Rennie in it?

You have your answer.

Also, Pontypool is so good and I am sad to report the actual town of Pontypool, Ontario is merely a sleepy little hamlet.
posted by Kitteh at 3:32 AM on February 28, 2022

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