Let Me Explain why Pontypool is Zombies Done Right
Let Me Explain why Pontypool is Zombies Done Right - or how this low budget movie is infinitely better than the recent Justice League movie anyway.
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Let Me Explain why Pontypool is Zombies Done Right

I am always right. And the reason I am always right is because I listen to you. I listen to your movie suggestions and I bring them out here… and voila, I look like a genius, because I am always right. It’s a win win win… well, for me at least anyway.

Which brings me to my next win. Pontypool. Which, if i were clever enough, I would have hidden from you all that L, or Ned, or whatever they are going by today, is the one that told me about it. But alas, I’ve already let it slip and I’ve lost control of this fact. But I swear to you my best movie review ideas come from you all. I actually contacted a developer in the Ukraine just minutes ago and asked him if he’d build me a page that would allow you all to submit movies to be discussed here, and then let you upvote them. Which, is my idea. So I will be taking credit for that one. I built out a fullon bulletin board location and attached it to the site, but it took too much away from our conversations here in the comments. But allowing you all to post and upvote movie ideas is the best thing I could ever do to make my own life better. So heck ya! Alright, enough about the site and whatever. (Can you tell it’s my last night in Haiti and I might have had one too many Guiness?)

So why should you watch Pontypool even though you’ve never heard of it? Because it is a closed box movie with big aspirations. It is a closed box movie on the scale of 10 Cloverfield Lane… but maybe better? Hrm. Don’t know for sure there. But it gives it a run for its money, that’s for sure. It has something big to say when it is all said and done, and heck ya, it’s a lot of fun along the way. Personally, if I were you, avoid this trailer like the plague (see what I did there?) but heck, the choice is up to you.

I told you why you should see it. I was kind to you. I gave you a few unspoilery details. Told you about the big ideas it has. And you are still here? Reading? Really? I mean, come on!? Is that how you treat someone that is so good to you? No. It isn’t. You watch the movie first. THEN you read the thing. Right? Great. Good.

Pontypool Walkthrough Explanation

This movie really just consists of; Grant Mazzy – who is the radio host, Sydney Briar – the radio producer, Laurel-Ann Drummond – the radio assistant, and Dr. Mendez – the local town doctor. There are also a few feral zombies (are there non-feral zombies?) that eventually make an entrance. But realistically? It’s just four characters that populate this tightly closed box movie.

As the movie kicked off I was legitimately confused. All I knew was that this was a different sort of Zombie movie. Which, honestly, is enough for me. But the movie kicks off with mainly banter between the radio staff. There’s discussion about Mazzy’s conspiracy theories and Sydney’s desire to keep Mazzy on book. It really seems like this is an ongoing battle between the two of them.

But the cadence of the movie shifts, and the direction becomes a lot more clear when we start hearing about a crowd of people out at Dr. Mendez’s office. The radio station is the first to pick up the story and it seems to grow and grow quickly. Ken Loney, their “eyes in the sky” is sending reports about the unruly crowd and the chaos that is quickly spreading through the town.

What is most intriguing is how the screenplay keeps the story moving in such a compelling and interesting way. This actually could be a radio drama so little is happening on screen. But the cadence doesn’t slow, it just continues to build as each new revelation and escalation continues to play across the airwaves. Ultimately though, it is becoming clear that there has been a zombie outbreak of some size and that the citizens of the town are turning on each other and working actively to get their own victim or they pop and die.

Snowcrash Siting Alert

Did you guys catch the copy of Snowcrash that entered the movie momentarily? Books are always dropped into movies for a reason. And I mention it because Neal Stephenson is a Geek favorite, and always a good read. The Baroque Cycle is always high on my recommendation list if you are into history. Possibly the most sprawling and fascinating historical novel I’ve ever read. Sir Isaac Newton as you’ve never seen him. But even better? The Cryptonomicron. Not for the faint of heart. I’ve recommended it to a number of people and many have found it hard to mentally solve. But it is literally brilliant. It’s two different story lines, one slightly in the future, and the other during World War II. And the book 100% deals with cryptography, crypto currencies, the intrinsic insecurities of money, nation building, sovereignty, Neal talks about all of it. It’s a mind blowing book.

But stop… Snowcrash, what is Snowcrash about? Oh right right right… it’s just a simple book about a virus that lives in both the virtual world called the Metaverse, as well as the real world – or meat space. It’s a truly old virus that taps into truly primitive areas of the human brain. And if it takes over your brain it turns you into a mumbling idiot. A babbling zombie of sorts. Cough. And it’s up to Hiro to decode the virus and to code a solution for freeing the enslaved zombies. Come on. You are seeing it right? Anyway.

Ending of Pontypool Discussed and Explained

When Dr. Mendez arrives through a window we begin to learn just how bad the outbreak is. And I was thoroughly confused when he says, “A victim needs a victim to suicide into…” Er, what? I honestly am not sure what that means. Do you remember when Laurel-Ann can’t find a victim? And she spews, and dies? I am guessing that that is one way that the infection is spread as the zombie dies.

And as we learn more about the zombies, we realize that they hone in on words, on talking, and that they are blind when communication stops. We learn that it could potentially be spread via words as well. That the virus could be contained in some words, if not in all words. So in an effort not to spread the virus Grant Mazzey and Sydney Briar begin communicating in French. Dr. Mendez moments before had spewed a fairly telling sentence: “We are witnessing a new arrangement for life, our language is our host. It could have sprung spontaneously out of perception. If it found it’s way into language it could leap into reality itself. It may be boundless. It may be a god-bug.” Which, I have to say is just one brilliant riff of writing. A god-bug? Hahaha. Life, reality, boundlessness? Brilliant.

But we are seeing that it isn’t when someone hears a word that they are infected. But rather when they understand the word. Which is an enormously key distinction to make. So basically one could essentially infect themselves by thinking of the word that carries the virus? Yeah, I think that that is the case.

Eventually Sydney Briar gets infected. She begins stuttering the word ‘kill’ over and over again. And it is then that Mazzy gets his break through idea. Kill is Kiss. And just like that Sydney is cured. But stop right there. By forcing Sydney to misunderstand the word Kill, or forcing her to think of it differently, he’s cured her? That assumes that the virus only stays resident when the infected/glitched word is understood. So that would mean that Mazzey has short circuited the infection AND ALSO cured the affect. Not only has he solved the communication of the dis-ease, but he has also made it so that she isn’t sick anymore. Is it clear what I am saying? So like Hiro in Snowcrash, Mazzey has cured Sydney’s broken brain.

And after that, it’s all a bit of house keeping. Mazzey and Sydney get on air and communicate the need to mis-understand the word that has infected them. To communicate out the recoding of the brain. And in so doing he has propagated the inoculation of society as well as the disinfection. And just like that, Sydney kisses Mazzey and the movie ends. (Get it, she kisses him? Not kills him? Yeah, I thought you might have gotten that. Sorry for being so painfully obvious.)

Great Insights in Pontypool

There were a couple of really great quotes as the movie spooled by – but my favorite, by far, was definitely, “Do you really want to keep playing musak for this genocide?”

But Mazzey, in a spirit of Pump Up the Volume, drops some really cool truths heading into the end of this movie. “Stop making sense!” He yells into the radio. “You are just killing scared people, you are like dogs.” And I feel like he could be saying that to us today. “We were never making sense… when Armageddon started leaching into our lives, into your ant hills, it was just another day… it was just another day where nothing made any sense at all.” So this movie is actually a metaphor for our lives today. People all around us are dying everyday. They are dying violently. Passively. Loudly and quietly. And none of it makes any sense at all. Right? We are thrashing wildly into the night. Zombies? That’s just another day of insanity.

No? What’d you think of it? I really really liked it.


Postscript… I’m currently stuck in Miami – good times – which, is it’s own Pontypool of sorts…

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13 Responses

  1. Aristotle

    Thank you for this recommendation. I love the creativity and format of the radio station. I didn’t know if the acting was a bit too much because of the actors themselves or possibly by the creative machinations of the director. The producer’s character was a bit too flat for me.

    Funny continuity blunder: the girl banging her face into the sound booth so many times, but the only blood smears she has are around her mouth and hands.

  2. Ned

    Haiti, Guinness, Pontypool…erm, hope you’re feeling better, my friend. You provided an excellent “explanation” with added depth of Snowcrash and book symbolism’s in movies. Yeah, you’re cool like that, Taylor.

  3. L

    Pontypool’s linguistic infection-causing-zombie-results is also a degree-of-separation from the sci-fi awarded “Snow Crash” book Stephenson wrote.

    Some premises of “Snow Crash” seem to infer likeness to the television series, “Mr. Robot”…another relatable creation but distant fiction from Pontypool.


    Taylor, thanks again for your explanations and insights. You are an Independent movie Producer/Director/Writer’s greatest promoter and friend—especially to struggling, thoughtful and talented artists not yet recognized by “Hollywood” or choosing such a path.

    But I still love the Hollywood-ish productions, too. When they bomb, it’s tough to watch the credits, the many names of contributors scrolling which encompass more people than some small town populations.

    Pontypool was a cheapo closed box production filmed in Canada and as Taylor well explains it, “A zombie film done right”.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Stephenson knows more about language and the nuance of words than I ever will. He is truly a master word-crafter, but better yet, he’s a master word-architect. No, that’s not what I’m getting at. A Meta-Word-Scientist? Archaeologist? Lingually he understands how language is the root of everything, even money, etc. And you can see that in all his work. Cryptonomicron is his best single book by far. Which, is where Biblionomicron came from actually, which is what I entitled my Bible expositions. He’s a pretty big deal. Have you read all his stuff? What was your favorite?

      • Ned

        Only read Snow Crash…you meaningfully described Stephenson’s brilliance. Thing is, fantasy author John Crowley held attention in two books, “Little, Big” and “Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr” to the point I’d forgotten Stephenson.

        Please take a second to look up on the net and read people’s comments about the two John Crowley’s books mentioned. Why he isn’t more well known boggles my mind. I wonder how his lyrical masterpieces would convey cinematically without losing depth. Oops!—I’ve digressed and am talking to myself, again haha! Anyway, Crowley became preferred over Stephenson because the former writes lyrical masterpieces, beauty within every sentence that may cause Stephenson to ooh and ahh.

        No one should leave earth until they’ve read Little, Big by John Crowley. As a writer yourself, Taylor, you might find inspiration from reading Crowley as this writer shared:


      • Taylor Holmes

        When it comes to books – you CAN NOT utilize the phrase, before you die, before you leave earth, before you kick off… unless it’s like your #1 favorite book of all time. Either that or it’s hyperbole. 100%. Fact. Please, do not tell me this is your favorite book. I mean, it seems clever. And lyrical. But best worthy? (Now that I think about it, I probably should have searched my blog to see if I fall prey to that hyperbolistic trap myself!)

        The only book I stand by like that, 100%? Infinite Jest. Wallace… no writer smarter. I challenge you to bring me a smarter writer. Can not do it. So yes, before you die, read Infinite Jest. Reading full tilt, 40-50 days. I’ve yet to crack a month and that’s upon rereads. I know what’s happening. I get the footnotes. I have a system for moving back and forth. Long read.

        But yeah, I started reading some of Little Big today. I can see why you like it. The House aspects of it reminds me of house of leaves.

    • Ned

      Imagine having Jeff Bezos as a friend—author Neal Stephenson doesn’t have to hahah!

      Words…can educate, can uplift and they can “kill” on so many levels. Everyone experiences a moment when someone’s words, whether positive or negative, greatly affect them. Depending on one’s psychological make-up, focus may exceed time allowed or too easily dismiss words which inspire or hurt. Words are like a two-bladed sword and cut through ignorance, darkness or forever wound.

      It may seem like this thread goes off topic but Pontypool, authors Stephenson and Crowley present in the order mentioned, a zombie-kooky, cyberpunk-creative, lyrical-beauty relating to words and how language so deeply affects us all.

      Taylor, looking forward to reading Infinite Jest. Thanks! Your wise advise to pay attention to a movie’s referencing of a book or other movie within the movie is a way to gain further depth of a film…kind of like like Poe’s musing, “All of life is but a dream within a dream” many films provide stories within stories.

      • Taylor Holmes

        All sets are staged exactly the way the director wants it. Books are never there accidentally. That is for sure. The movie creators (and maybe just the set designer) is telling us something when we come across a book. Gotta ask why.

  4. logan caraballo

    I like the review. One thing i do notice here, however, is you neglect to mention the post-credit sequence of the film and how it affects one’s overall interpretation of the events preceding it. (I personally feel like it alludes to the fact that the two may have been more knowingly involved in this outbreak than the rest of the film lets on).

  5. Zoya

    What if Mazzy was sickened from the start of the movie, and he never cured Sydney? What if he acquired the virus when he first met the infected woman on the road, who babbles nonsense at him and then begins repeating his words: “Hey! Who are you?”. What if we’re dealing with the worst kind of unreliable narrator: what if we’re seeing only what Mazzy, Sydney, and the rest see, and what they see is confused by the fact that they are sick and growing sicker? What if Mazzy inadvertently spread the disease even further with his broadcast? After all, the “cure” idea seems a bit too simple, too contrived…unless one’s mind isn’t working correctly, because one is infected.

    According to the director, there are three stages to the illness:
    “At Rue Morgue’s 2008 Festival of Fear expo, director Bruce McDonald stressed the victims of the virus detailed in the film were not zombies and called them “conversationalists”. He described the stages of the disease:

    ‘There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it’s words that are terms of endearment like sweetheart or honey. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can’t express yourself properly. The third stage you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person.'” (I had to get this quote from Wikipedia because the original article appears to be gone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontypool_(film) )

    Think how many times Mazzy repeats words, Pontypool being just the first in the opening scenes. Think how disjointed his speech to teach people to “stop making sense” becomes. Was his “kiss” actually the last stage? Did “kiss” really = “kill”? What if we are seeing and “understanding” through the eyes and ears of the infected?

    Pontypool is based on the book “Pontypool Changes Everything”, which is told from the perspective of the infected. The writing is difficult to follow…to say the least. https://www.amazon.com/Pontypool-Changes-Everything-Tony-Burgess/dp/1550228811/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2X0KZSK204HQ3&keywords=pontypool+changes+everything&qid=1565824455&s=gateway&sprefix=pontypool+changes%2Caps%2C228&sr=8-1

    In one of the movie’s final scenes, as Mazzy delivers his speech to “save” everyone, we hear the French Canadian Military, on a loudspeaker tell Sydney (in French): “Sydney Briar! Stop the broadcast! The man speaking is sick!” Shortly after, the city is bombed. Maybe he really IS sick?

    Lastly, remember when Mazzy talks to Nigel from the BBC? First, he goes silent…then, he seems unable to respond correctly, only repeating (rewording, yes but repeating) what Nigel already said? What if he spread the virus to Nigel, to the UK? What if that’s how the virus got overseas?

    There are so many things in Pontypool that aren’t what they seem, from Ken Loney who isn’t in a Sky Chopper to the Lawrence of Arabia player who looks like Bin Laden to the “baby” in the dying football player’s mouth. I think that maybe the whole movie isn’t what it seems.

    As for the final scene after the credits: “According to McDonald, the final scene of Grant and Sydney, now presented in a kicker, was originally placed before the credits. However, audiences in early screenings found the original ending to be too confusing, so the scene was moved behind the credits instead.[6]” (I also found this on Wikipedia. Yes, I’m being lazy.) If you can get this link to work, I recall it explains a lot http://twitchfilm.com/2009/03/from-pontypool-to-the-metaverse-in-90-minutes-a-conversation-with-bruce-mcd.html

    Quote Director Bruce McDonald: (I added the all-capitals) “That used to be end of the movie, but before the credits. And people thought, what? What? Too much confusion. There is a tradition now where you have something at the end of the credits where you have an outtake, or hint of a sequel. The existence for it is sort of buried in there, well the title of the book sort of suggests it, Pontypool Changes Everything, and one of the things I’ve always love about the notion of this, is that the virus could effect something as abstract as the English language, IT CAN LEAP INTO REALITY ITSELF. CHANGE THE FABRIC OF HOW REALITY IS PERCEIVED.”

    Thus it seems this scene was added as a way to “cure” or “inoculate” the audience, who just spent 90 minutes watching from the POV of the infected. After all, it would be terrible to have the story of a language virus start an actual language virus.

    Pontypool. Pontypool. Poиtypool. poиtypool. poиTYPOol. Repeat as necessary. Or not.)))


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