Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is the morning radio host on the relatively small community of Pontypool's local station, having a history of being sacked from bigger jobs throughout his career. He still means to carry on as he started, even with this more restricted audience, but as he drives to work in the early hours of St Valentine's Day, he stops to retrieve his phone and is alarmed by a woman suddenly appearing at the passenger window. She is saying something he cannot make out, and wanders off into the snowstorm, but he decides not to pursue her as he has his job to get to. It plays on his mind, however, and when he reaches the studio it gives him an idea for a phone-in topic..
But he should be careful of what he says in this curious, semi-satirical zombie movie from cult Canadian director Bruce McDonald. Not that the zombies are evident for most of the story, as we have to take it as read that there are hordes of them outside the radio station while a seige situation develops with Mazzy in the centre of it. Usually in this kind of thing the virus to turn people into the undead is spread through biting, but here there is a far more original method of transferrance, and it's one which even by the finale is not entirely clear. We sort of get the idea, but it falls halfway between two stools of outright horror and a send up of meme theory, with an apocalyptic garnish.
It starts quietly enough, with Mazzy getting all rebellious about what he wants to broadcast to the community and having to be reined in by his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle, McHattie's wife in real life) who wishes him to read out details of school closures due to the snow and introduce the travel helicopter. He reluctantly agrees, but sort of gets his way when he kicks off the topic of conversation for the listeners about when you should call 911 and when you should mind your own business, but soon there will be nobody to call for help as the authorities turn out to be very hard to get hold of. The reason they want to contact them is down to a strange report from their travel man in the sky.
That report details in a vague manner the apparent riot going on at the local doctor's practice, which the travel man describes as being as if the building has imploded with the pressure of bodies. This is clever as the budget patently would not have stretched to such special effects, yet to hear the panicky illustration over the airwaves allows us to use our imaginations and that lack of clarity about precisely what is up means that the extent of the disaster only grows more vast in our minds without the benefit of imagery to nail the visuals. Also, with a film so concerned with language, it was fitting that is what supplies so much of the suspense as the three characters in the studio - Mazzy, Sydney and engineer Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) - are effectively trapped.
Something weird that happens is that some of those calling in begin rambling and repeating themselves as if their capacity for communication is breaking down. The implication is that the dissemination of dangerous ideas, that is ones that send their listeners into reactionary and even violent behaviour, is down to the manipulation of the what we hear over the media, and in turn what we hear from those we meet whose dark ideas prove infectious. Yet even that doesn't quite cover what is happening to the community, and Pontypool frequently skirts confusion in its telling, never mind in the immediate world of the characters. In spite of this, and the manner in which you feel it really should be a comedy even if McDonald is reluctant to go too far down that route, the film does work up a degree of suspense, and there was nothing exactly like it in its genre although superficially it resembled anything from Assault on Precinct 13 to Day of the Dead. Music by Claude Foisy.