Edinburgh International Film Festival

Pontypool (2008)

Starring: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts

Directed by: Bruce McDonald

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Stephen McHattie as DJ Grant Mazzy in Pontypool

When Orson Welles broadcast is radio play of HG Wells' The War of the Worlds as a breaking news story, the roads quickly became jammed with listeners trying to escape the Martians. Two days ago, on the night that Michael Jackson died, bringing Google to its knees in the process, a rumour also circulated that actor Jeff Goldblum had died. By 11 o'clock the following morning, this was the third most popular topic on the internet – and it was a hoax.

The moral? If you put it out there, someone will believe you.

But for small town shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), the problem is not so much believing what's being broadcast, but broadcasting the unbelievable.

Fired from a larger station for being too mouthy, Mazzy is having problems reining in his trademark 'take no prisoners' attitude to suit the conservative, rural audience of Pontypool, Ontario. But as reports begin to filter in of riots, sickness and violence it's he who becomes the prisoner in his basement studio, besieged by zombie-like townspeople infected by a mysterious murderous virus that's sweeps through the area, infecting all in its wake.

But fear not – this isn't yet another shambling, rotting zombie flick. In fact it's like nothing you've ever seen before, a brilliant, gripping, masterly exercise in tension, suspense and intrigue. A sparing use of gore means the few bloody moments are all the more shocking, while the twists and turns in the plot keep you on the edge of your seat – and when did you last see a zombie movie in which the virus is spread through language?

Relatively unknown actor Stephen McHattie gives an awesome performance as the grizzled, verbose, egotistical DJ who, though at first as sceptical as we are, is given a chance to redeem himself as he figures out how to save the town through his expertise in manipulating linguistics.

Scheduled for release in the UK in October, this is one of the most intelligent, entertaining, chilling and jaw-dropping horror films I've seen in ages. Trust me — I'm putting this out there, so it must be true.

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