There is truly more at work here under the surface than many might care to admit, and come Hell or high water, a consensus will be reached. Go ahead and hop behind the jump to get started. As always, spoilers abound, so under no circumstances are you to ruin this fine movie for yourself by reading this before watching it. Otherwise, get crackin'! Let's make radio!
Let's start with the characters. Beyond a few ancillary characters, our focus is on three individuals: Stephen McHattie as opinionated DJ Grant Mazzy; Lisa Houle as producer Sydney Briar; and Georgina Reilly as the war veteran technician Laurel-Ann Drummond. Their job: bring the news to the quiet town of Pontypool, Ontario from the basement of a church-cum-radio station. McHattie, who I remember principally from Beverly Hills Cop 3, is utterly phenomenal as Mazzy, bringing a sort of acerbic wit that is highly unconventional for AM radio. This results in plenty of head butting with Briar, who does her best to keep Mazzy on track as he diverts from school closings in favor of political commentary. The sexual tension between the two is subtle, drifting slowly to the surface as the threat of utter chaos grows greater. There to help keep things running smooth is Drummond, whose soft appearance belies her combat experience in the Middle East. It's a damned shame she ends up chewing her way out of her own mouth.
Produced simultaneously as a radio play, Pontypool is filled to the brim with rapid fire and sharp dialogue, with each of the three main characters playing off of each other perfectly. As Mazzy provides a controversial dialogue, we hear Sydney telling him to just shut up and stick to the script, something clearly not on his agenda for this snowy morning in Pontypool. For a genre where dialogue is secondary to camera tricks, blood and tits, Pontypool manages to take convention and turn it on its head, making dialogue the driving force behind the film.
And that's what the movie is all about. Words. But what about them? For me, a word only has as much meaning as the intent of the individual who uttered it, and while it's not explicit, Pontypool, I think, manages to tackle this in a subversive, pseudo-zomberiffic way. Once infected, the victim begins uttering the word – or several words – repeatedly, until they're seemingly devoid of all meaning. As we come to find out, words to be avoided include terms of endearment. This, then, makes it no surprise that Laurel-Ann is the first in the station to be infected, as Grant forgot to give her a Valentine's card. But what conclusions can be drawn from this? Beyond my initial thoughts, I am struggling to come up with a satisfactory answer.
Pontypool is certainly a thinking man's horror film, yet remains accessible without burdening the viewer with a convoluted twist or forcing you to draw your own conclusions concerning the ending. It's fairly obvious: in one final embrace, Grant Mazzy and Sydney Briar are seemingly obliterated. Despite broadcasting the cure, the military doesn't seem to care, preferring instead to simply "take care of the problem." But while some films prefer to wear the subtext on their sleeve, Bruce McDonald and Tony Burgess kept it incredibly subtle, forcing the viewer to formulate their own opinions not about what, but why.
So what do you think? Why are only terms of endearment and affection affected? Why not French? Does the virus spread outside of Pontypool? I want to hear your thoughts on the film and its subtext. I'm clearly missing something, and I want to know what.