Pontypool (2008) Review: A Great Excuse To Toss Around The Word “Meta”

Pontypool tells us the tale of a small Canadian town’s zombie-esque epidemic told through the eyes of jaded radio announcer Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and radio station manager Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle). As they remain held-up in the station’s underground recording studio for the majority of the crisis, they’ve only a third-person understanding of the events at hand. That is, until some flesh hungry zombies start a knockin’ on their door.

When that happens, they’re pretty much boned.

But, the preceding synopsis does not do the film’s premise justice – it really just makes it sound like another regular-ass zombie flick. Where Pontypool happens to stand apart from the rest, is that – as mentioned earlier – the virus in question propagates through the English language.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “Well, what the hell does that mean?”

Shut up, and give me a second to explain, abrasive reader!

You see, when one comes to understand the “infected word” they begin repeating it, over and over. As the repetition increases, the word itself loses all meaning (you know, like when you were a kid). When the meaning behind the word is lost, the victim loses their ability to express themselves and becomes increasingly anxious.

Then they go friggin’ bonkers and their brain goes snappy-snap.

I know, I know. “That sounds kind of stupid.”


I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. Admittedly, it might sound kind of silly to some, on paper – but to others, it’d best be labeled as “most engaging.” You expect an average “three-star” zombie kill-fest, and you get what amounts to a heavy-duty mind-rape, instead.

Yes, it plays out like a good, suspenseful genre film – just the way it should – but, looming in the background is a leitmotif that’s way more cerebral than our expectations would suggest.

Think of it this way – although this is really reducing it, of course; language in itself, is merely a way to describe reality. When I think of the word “hate” I draw associations that are unique to my own conception of the word. In this case, it leads me to think of mimes. You, however, might associate the word hate with something entirely different.

Conversely, if I say “love,” then that jogs a whole other slew of other ideas, entirely – maybe like, those cartoon hearts or something.

The signs are the words we use, and the signified are that which are being referred to.

Now, here, you can see the limitations of language. Words are simply words, in a sense. However, our society and entire means of communication and thinking are based entirely around it. Everything from what we think about to what we pay attention to is dictated by the language that we speak. Cultures that speak in languages that use words with no direct English translation think and perceive differently than we do.

So – back to the film. Without spoiling anything, the way that the virus is “cured” – which, is to say that  the way the “infected word” is “cured” – is by changing our “understanding.” This is done by changing the associations and conceptualizations we have of the term that we’re infected with.


Look, it’s tough to explain this in words (I wonder why, derpity-doo) but this is the sort of thing that has to be seen to be understood. It’ll split your mind in half as the zen koans that did mine. Hell, if you think about it, the film itself might as well be a zen koan! It elucidates the limitations of language through language itself – much akin to the zen idea of the eradication of logic through an almost paradoxically logical approach.

PontyPool picture
“I can’t take anymore of this meta! It’s so meta, I feel like I’m going to explode!”

The Verdict: [rating:4]

You like zombie movies? Then embrace this film with open arms! It’s not every day that a genre flick can slap you uspside the head so hard. It’s something that both fans of horror and Franz Kafka can celebrate and dance the dance of unrequited joy.

Which, by the way, looks suspiciously similar to the safety dance.

This is what film is all about, nay, this is what storytelling is all about. Injecting powerful themes and aesops into the subconscious minds of unsuspecting viewers. What you think should be a mouthful of hot-zombie-action happens to be smothered in a thick blanket of self-referential sauce.

Cloverfield taught us about the power of love (and marketing).

Good Night and Good Luck taught us the existential value of fighting even a losing battle (or something).

Pontypool has now taught us the limitations of the language that’s been woven throughout our inner and outer worlds; how our cognition and expression are heavily influenced by it. You could say that it makes you think – but then the manner in which you think is exactly that which you wind up thinking about! It’s a feeling that’s unfamiliar, but not altogether as unpleasant as it sounds.

If you’re a hardcore fan of the living dead, or you’re the type of sicko who gets off on meta-text and likes his genre films injected with a cerebral edge, then look no further, my new best friend. Pontypool will satisfy your needs, and then make you think twice about using that left brain hemisphere that you hold in such high-esteem. It’s riddled with metaphors, and will most likely knock you on your ass.

Seriously, watch Pontypool. I have a gun.

*Gets thrown back in the cube*


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