Shut up or die
Imagine that one morning after breakfast you get a frantic phone call from your neighbour. She seems consumed in fear, cannot stop hyperventilating, and is constantly repeating the word “husband.” You attempt to calm her down, but find that now you cannot stop saying “husband.” You have been infected.
This is the premise of Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s new zombie flick Pontypool. It follows a day in the life of a radio station crew as their small town of Pontypool, Ont. is overcome by a strange disease.
“It’s such an insane and crazy thing. Our language is infected with a virus and terms of endearment are infected and if you hear you’ll become infected, so it’s such a bizarre, weird concept,” McDonald said about the film.It is loosely based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Ontario author Tony Burgess, who also wrote the screenplay.
“It is something that’s familiar to us. Language is something that we don’t even think about but when you do think about it it’s such a bizarre idea.”
Pontypool is not your average zombie movie. Rather than overwhelming the audience with blood and gore, it gradually builds suspense as horrifying scenes are phoned into the low-budget 660 CLSY radio station. Leather-tongued shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie of 300 and Watchmen) attempts to navigate the audience through the terrifying accounts as he and his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) try to figure out what is going on outside the walls of their abandoned church radio studio.
As it becomes apparent that the English language is to blame for the violence, the radio crew faces a difficult dilemma.
“It’s almost an old-fashioned movie, which is more about suspense than it is about how many pints of blood we could pump,” McDonald said.
“It’s such an insane and crazy thing. Our language is infected with a virus and terms of endearment are infected and if you hear you’ll become infected, so it’s such a bizarre, weird concept,”
— director Bruce McDonald
He attributed the style to classic low-budget producer Val Luten. But the special effects are nothing to scoff at, created by Resident Evil and Dawn of the Dead studio Mr. X.
The privately funded Canadian movie is the first to be filmed with the with the high-definition Red One digital camera, and lacks the characteristic cheap grainy feeling of most Canadian movies. McDonald said it is going take a long time to change people’s perception of Canadian film, usually associated with the National Film Board film they saw in junior high school.
“You know, it’s a constant thing,” McDonald said about the Canadian film industry’s struggle. “Canada has the population of Holland, yet it’s right next door to the Americans, so Canadian films will always be outside the gates of Hollywood.”
McDonald is no stranger to film adaptations of Canadian books. His resume includes the daringly artistic The Tracey Fragments, the aboriginal coming of age story Dance Me Outside, and the punk rock cult classic Hardcore Logo.
“It’s harder than raising the money, it’s harder than shooting, it’s harder than editing. The hardest fucking part is writing it,” McDonald said about book adaptations. “It’s kind of knowing what you don’t need, and what the movies can show that the printed page needs two pages to convey. A movie can often do that in a second. In one fucking second.”
McDonald plans to eventually make Pontypool into a trilogy.
“The first one is kind of like ‘What’s going on?’ The second on is like ‘This is what’s going on?’ And the third one is like ‘this is what happens after the bloodbath.’ ”
Pontypool opens in Calgary at the Uptown on Mar. 20.