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Film / Pontypool

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A Canadian horror film from 2008, set almost entirely inside a radio studio in the town of Pontypool, Ontario. Swaggering shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) has just been hired by the local radio station, and this particular day sees the snowstorm from hell descend on Pontypool. After a strange encounter with a nonsensical woman who staggers off into the storm, he gets to work - immediately butting heads with producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), who's assisted by staff member (and Afghanistan vet) Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly).

Then, a Zombie Apocalypse (of sorts) begins. Trapped in the snowstorm, the three try to keep track of the situation through the radio, and eventually face a siege.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Stephen McHattie as an early-morning radio reporter, having previously played the original "Nite Owl" in Watchmen.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: in both the film and radio versions the on-the-scene reporter Ken Loney becomes infected and loses his mind live on-air. In both continuities Grant immediately tries to comfort a crying Sydney for her lost friend. In the film Sydney clarifies that she's suspected for a long time that Ken was a pedophile and should be kept away from children, and is only crying from the shock of losing someone who she'd known for 17 straight years. In the radio version, this information is not revealed, and thus this version of Ken is technically blameless.
  • Admiring the Abomination: Mendez's talk of the virus frequently tips into an eerie reverence and admiration of its ability to spread.
  • An Aesop: During his anti-establishment tirade, Grant concludes that society duly deserved this virus, as it had already perverted language beyond all recognition.
  • Agent Mulder: Mendez, with Grant as his curmudgeonly Scully.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Shit goes down in the tiny, rural Ontario town of Pontypool (a word which just happens to be Welsh in origin).
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The radio station is breached.
  • The BBC: Pretty soon, the Pontypool situation becomes headline news.
  • Apocalypse How: Presumably class 1 if the infection is contained to the English language; class 2 or 3 if it jumps to other languages. The events during the end credits suggest that a class 1 event is imminent, given that the infection is spreading.
  • Ax-Crazy: The sanity of those infected gets worse as time goes on, until eventually they plunge into a perpetual Unstoppable Rage.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: According to Mendez, the infected have this mindset by the third stage of the infection, looking for another infected person so they can chew each other to death and end their suffering before they vomit out their own liquified viscera.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The infection is only spread through the English language. Don’t want to succumb to the infection? Knowing French or Armenian might help.
  • Black Comedy: A few bits, but Mendez, immediately after Laurel-Ann dies, is in fine form:
    Mendez: My GOD that was impressive! (He notices Sidney is throwing up) Oh, oh, oh, and singularly monstrous, defies comprehension, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
    • Moments later, when the other "victims" swarm the station:
    Mendez: There must be hundreds of them pressed against the building! What we need is a flamethrower.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Happens to Laurel-Ann in very gory fashion. Dr. Mendez believes it's due to her failing to kill herself with another sufferer of the infection.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
    Grant: That was our own Ken Loney...interviewing...a screaming baby...coming from Mary Gault's eldest son's last dying gasps.
  • Brownface: The two white kids dressed as bedouin for "Lawrence and the Arabians" have their faces painted dark brown, as does one of the adults accompanying them, who performs a cringe-worthy ululation at the end of their song.
    • It's especially ludicrous - and we may be tempted to share Grant's frustration and disbelief that he has to feature them - in that the group has put on costumes and browned up for a radio performance with no cameras.
  • Brown Note: How the virus is spread.
  • Buffy Speak: "I need the Mazzyness."
  • Cat Scare: A subtle one. Just prior to things really beginning, the station gets a report of a kidnapping that has required police intervention. It is swiftly revealed to be nothing more than a group of drunken ice fishers having a fight and has been resolved almost as quickly as it started to Grant's amusement. Cue the reports of a riot happening in Dr. Mendez's office...
  • Chekhov's Gun: (bemused) "Mrs. French's cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town..." Also the soundbooth, which allows them to hide from Laurel Ann.
    • If the signs are all over town, then everyone in town has been consciously or subconsciously meditating on the word "Honey", a term of endearment - the very type of word that the French government later specifically warns against as particularly infectious.
  • City Mouse: Grant is a disgraced shock jock from the big city and is still getting adjusted to life in a tiny rural town.
  • Creepy Child: Happens with one of the singers who visits the studio. Later, she appears in full-on zombie form.
  • Deadline News: The news crew get's regular updates from their "traffic helicopter" reporter Ken Loney who is stuck out in the middle of the action.
  • Death of a Child: Grant and Sydney are attacked by the youngest member of Lawrence and the Arabians, who showed earlier the signs of infection and are forced to kill her.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Grant's disturbing obituaries are read over stylized black and white footage of the victims. The Stinger is also in monochrome.
  • Do Not Go Gentle:
    "This is Grant Mazzy for CSLY Radio Nowhere. ...And I'm still here, you cocksuckers."
  • Double Speak: Mendez comes up with this method of evading infection. Grant takes it a step further by substituting "kill" for "kiss," and so on.
    Sydney: I don't think we're saving the world with shitty haiku.
    Grant: Everybody's a critic.
  • Downer Ending: It's a zombie film, what would you expect? Though Grant and Sydney have found a (theoretical) way to cure the infection, the town gets bombed anyway. It doesn't stop the spread, though; the closing credits are a voice-over montage of other radio stations and callers reporting the beginnings of the same strange events in Pontypool. The last lines we hear are the BBC anchor repeating "Pontypool, Pontypool," sounding rather bewildered.
    • Gainax Ending: In a quirky twist, Grant and Syd's supposed deaths are followed more black & white footage, except they're dressed as a couple of Tarantino-style hipsters (!) The color returns as Grant Quips to Black.
  • Dumbass DJ: Grant behaves like this early on.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire story and events in regards to the Pontypool-incident takes place within the span of twenty-four hours, maximum.
  • Facial Horror: Word of God from the director, Bruce McDonald, confirms this is the third stage of the "Infection", where "you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person".
    • A complication of this is where the "other person" the sufferer hears is not a person at all but an object such as speakers or a sound booth and the sufferer becomes badly injured as a result, or as in the case of Laurel-Ann, where the "other person" is visible but not audible, at which point (in her case), the sufferer begins chewing on their own face as a kind of 'relief'.
  • Fearful Symmetry: The infected have an unnerving habit of parroting anything you say to them in the later stages of the disease.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: In a very strange way. This whole mess supposedly began with a flyer for a missing cat, "Honey." While Honey is presumably a totally normal cat, the cutesy name itself is implied to have been the cause of the outbreak.
  • For Science!: Dr. Mendez is a hilarious, over-the-top nod to grindhouse "scientists" who are fascinated by the infection, and not terribly concerned about the victims.
  • From Beyond the Fourth Wall: A deeper analysis of the book, the film and the radio play posits the theory that the language virus - the "entity" within the English language - has managed to infect the various media through which we learn about it. In the book, this involves the narrative gradually breaking down and becoming derealised, the final chapters barely comprehensible and totally unrelated to the original story. In the film, this takes the form of the surreal coda in which Sydney and Grant have seemingly taken on new identities and can only speak in code.
  • Funny Foreigner: John Mendez, Pontypool's very own Dr. Nick. He's currently under suspicion for writing false prescriptions.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The camera focuses on a wall poster advertising the station as Grant and Sydney kick a twelve-year-old zombie to death.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mendez, the doctor, sacrifices his life to save Grant and Sydney from the infected.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Sort of, when the BBC calls and gets Grant on the air. He's usually the one asking the questions...
  • Hope Spot:
    • After first becoming increasingly "stuck" on a particular word, and then frequently going nonverbal and imitating the sound of nearby objects, the infected reach a stage where they appear to regain some verbal ability and can again hold limited conversations with people, suggesting the start of a recovery. Unfortunately, it is not. The disease has actually progressed, and as Dr. Mendez notes, the infected are essentially engaging in hunting tactics, as they require verbal responses to track down victims.
    • When Grant realizes how the disorder is spread and attempts to broadcast the "cure" over the airwaves.
    • After the destruction of Pontypool, one survivor calls in another radio station who seems to have overcome the virus. If that survivor or any others have been listening to Grant's last broadcast and have escaped destruction, then he may have planted a seed for others to understand what they needed to do to combat the virus.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The film happens entirely in one February 14th, Valentine's Day. This is part of the plot, because as stated above the virus is spread especially quickly when using terms of endearment and baby talk, and lovers are prone to do that on Valentine's Day.
  • Innocently Insensitive: It's clear from watching them that Pontypool's amateur singing group "Lawrence and the Arabians" imagines that their performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan-pastiche called "The Nafud Desert" (an important locale in the Arab Revolt the actual TE Lawrence took part of) is respectful of Arab culture. It is not.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The cure. In the end, Grant gives an impassioned speech filled with this, imploring his audience to "stop making sense."
  • It's Probably Nothing: Apart from Grant, the station originally dismisses the outbreak as a hoax.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Grant.
  • Last Kiss: Sydney and Grant share one as the fate of the radio station is left ambiguous.
  • Lost Pet Grievance: the movie begins with "Honey the Cat", beloved pet of Pontypool resident Mrs. Frenchie, missing and sought-after, Arguably the missing posters all over town with the word "Honey" on them are what kick-starts the language infection.
    • A hilarious moment of Mood Whiplash occurs later in the film when, after one of its most disturbing moments (on-the-scene reporter Ken Loney live recording the sound of a toddler's voice coming from the throat of a dying, mutilated teenager suffering from the infection), Sydney gets another call and confirms that Honey the cat has been found! Grant responds, relatably, with silent bafflement.
  • Madness Mantra: Subverted. While people infected with the disease speak in madness mantras, Dr.Mendez hypothesizes that this is how the victims seek out other victims. Grant believes it's actually the victims' brains trying to fight off the madness by making the diseased words incomprehensible.
  • Magic Countdown: At the very end of the film. We never learn what it’s counting down to, as the movie ends at zero.
  • Mind Screw: The stinger after the credits.
  • Mistaken for Insane: When Dr. Mendez briefly succumbs to the infection, but then manages to fight it off by speaking in his native Armenian, Syd and Grant become convinced by his manic musing aloud in Armenian on what he's just discovered that he's been overcome by the virus.
  • Morton's Fork: Grant pulls one on Sydney: When they are forced to kill the infected girl and believe they will need to take out the doctor next, Grant argues that since Sydney was responsible for killing the girl, she should have to kill the doctor as well. When Sydney protests that Grant was the one who killed the girl, Grant counters that this means that it's Sydney's turn to kill the doctor.
  • Mr. Exposition: Mendez.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Possibly. Given the way the virus spreads, Sydney theorizes that they might have propagated it through repeated mention of Honey the missing cat. Grant initially thinks she's off her rocker, but later it's suggested she might be right.
    • The French warning early in the film ends with Do not translate this message. Sounds like it should have been at the beginning, or repeated throughout the signal.
  • Noodle Incident: We're not told what caused Grant to get fired from his previous job, but given that he's a shock jock, you can infer that he pissed off the wrong person, or too many of them.
  • Non Sequitur: Played for Horror. When somebody first gets infected, they recite one of these a few times before entering the first stage of the infection: a Madness Mantra.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The producers stress that the infectees are not zombies, but "conversationalists."
  • Oh, Crap!: "Do not translate...this...message." Oops.
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No: Grant and Syd later try scribbling notes to avoid being infected. It doesn't work.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Very much so. They're not walking dead, they're not created through physical bites, but through sound bytes: words infecting the mind and causing people to go crazy. Also, they parrot the last words they say/hear. They do eat people, but Word of God is that they aren't trying to eat people, exactly, but are instead utterly convinced that the only way to end their affliction is to chew their way into the mouth of another person. He also refers to them as "conversationalists" rather than zombies.
  • Pædo Hunt: Played with in reference to Ken Loney. Sydney muses that everyone always suspected him, and they never left him alone with their kids.
  • Privacy by Distraction: Grant transmitting a Broken Record recording through the speakers, drawing the mob away from his booth and back outside.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Subverted. After Grant and Sydney kill the infected girl from Lawrence and the Arabians in self-defense, Grant is reluctant to admit that they both killed her.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Even though its a brief one-way conversation, it's pretty clear that whatever Grant did to get himself fired from his previous job, it tainted his prospects so badly that the middle-of-nowhere job of Pontypool was pretty much the only place he could get work.
  • Resigned to the Call: Rather than try to save his own skin, Grant is determined to broadcast his "cure" on the airwaves.
    "People are already dying, Syd. And we've been playing Muzak. Do we really want to provide a genocide with elevator music?"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Laurel-Ann seems well-adjusted, but she mentions "the situation I brought back in my head," alluding to some possible lingering psychological trauma.
  • Shout-Out: A copy of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is displayed suspiciously prominently in one scene. Snow Crash also deals heavily with infections transmitted via language.
  • Snow Means Death: The film takes place with a severe snowstorm outside.
  • Spoof Aesop: "Keep an eye out for crazy ladies in the snow."
  • Survival Horror: Eventually.
  • Technically Living Zombie: Lampshaded by Grant, who refers to them as "scared people." Conversely, an MP in the closing credits expresses hope that the mob was already dead when he took them out.
  • Tragic Monster: Since the infectees don't start off dead like regular zombies, in the first moments of infection they are aware that they've begun speaking nonsense, as we see with Laurel-Ann, Ken, and the good Doctor. Many of them seem to be confused and terrified by what's happening to them, indicating that they may be fully cognizant of what they're doing but are suffering some irresistible compulsion.
  • Ultimate Life Form: Alluded to with Mendez's calling the infection a "god-bug".
  • Understatement: "This is a hell of a shift, Sydney!"
  • The Voice: Ken Loney in his Sunshine Chopper. (Actually his Dodge Dart, parked on a hill, while helicopterrotor.wav is piped in.)
  • Wham Line: When Dr. Mendez realizes how the infection is transmitted.
    Dr. Mendez: It's viral, that much is clear. But…not of the blood. Of blood, not in the air. Not on, or even in, our bodies. It is here.
    Grant: Where?
    Dr. Mendez: It is in words.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Where did the rest of Lawrence and the Arabians go? Why was 'Faraj' seemingly left alone at the radio station? Who found Honey the cat, and did either of them survive?
  • With Catlike Tread: In an amusing sequence, Grant and Syd accidentally trigger "O Canada", which blares from an overhead speaker. Grant takes a hammer to it, but the conversationalists have already been summoned.
  • Word-Salad Horror: The second stage of the infection is this. The sufferer starts spouting nonsensical sentences, unable to truly communicate.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: An unconventional take.
  • Zombie Infectee: Numerous. The first one is the woman from the beginning of the film. Laurel-Ann soon becomes one. So does Sydney, but she gets better. Grant has a brief brush with The Virus, but the sheer confusion of what's going on outside that he experience manage to snap him out from it.