TIFF: If Words Could Kill

Shut up or die, for your words may lead directly to your demise. That is the premise that lies at the heart of director Bruce McDonald's latest film Pontypool, about a small town that has been infected by a virus that is spread through language.

Set entirely inside an AM radio station located in the bowels of an old church, the evidence of a growing madness comes through radio reports and eyewitness accounts of townspeople speaking gibberish and tearing people limb from limb, as a washed-up shock jock and his producers try and make sense of it all. For what is often described as a zombie movie, there is little in the way of the gore, or the undead for that matter. The horror comes from the growing tension as events outside the station spiral out of control and begin closing in.

What is causing everyone to act so strangely? Is it words? Only English words? Or is it the meaning of the words and why here and why now? The answer is not provided, but not by oversight. The answer isn't available in the novel that it is based on either, Pontypool Changes Everything, and that's the way author Tony Burgess likes it.

I had the opportunity to interview Burgess nine years ago about the last book in his Bwedley trilogy, which explored the dark underbelly of small towns, where violence, fear and dark secrets blossom and thrive. "It's not necessary for everything to be explained," he said at the time, "as long as the emotion or the context is understood."

So is Pontypool about the power words have over us? That wielded in a skillful way can lead people to evil and violence? "There is a thing the metaphors mean, but that thing might be very personal to me, and may not necessarily contribute to the reading," he said of his ideas. Seems he hasn't changed either. "Working with Bruce (McDonald) has been great," Burgess told CanCult this month, "I write him these insane things that I think he’ll fire me over, but he just keeps putting them in the damn movie."

Here is McDonald (standing beside Burgess) at our screening this weekend. Sorry about the image quality, the camera doesn't do so hot without proper lighting.

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