The English language can be, at best, maddening at times. With homonyms, parallel structure and the horrors of their, there and they're, the language's eccentricities can drive a person to kill sometimes.
In Bruce McDonald's latest horror flick, Pontypool, a virus infects the townspeople's speech, slowly and insidiously destroying the small town community of Pontypool, Ontario. People-- dubbed conversationalists by McDonald-- have their ability to communicate via speaking ripped away from them. They can only vomit out terms of endearment and gibberish ad nauseum, finally losing their sanity from it all with particularly bloody and gory results.
"As a conversationalist, you are in a high state of agitation and you just want to get it all out," says McDonald, sitting in the loft of the Uptown Cinema. "You want to communicate what you're thinking and feeling, but you can't. The only way for you to do that is to chew your way through another person's mouth."
The film originally started out as a book by author Tony Burgess, a surrealist post-modern novel titled Pontypool Changes Everything. McDonald was drawn to the story's premise and its manipulation of the mundanities of talking into an unconventional horror plot.
"I've always loved the idea because it's so nuts," McDonald says. "It always appealed to me because people are so desperate to communicate. It's like [Alfred Hitchcock's] The Birds. You know these things so well and then suddenly it's like you don't know anything at all about them."
For an independent filmmaker like McDonald, working on small budgets and on a tight deadline is usual fare. But Pontypool was another beast altogether. The film was privately financed, shot for only half a million dollars over the course of two weeks in a small church basement. This was the first time McDonald used private funding to make a film and his broad face smiles warmly when discussing how he was able to procure funds for the movie.
"It's a fucking miracle," he says. "It's great as a signal to other filmmakers that you don't have to go to Telefilm to get your funding. It was a very radical financing process."
With actor Stephen McHattie (Elaine's therapist in Seinfeld) and Miraslaw Baskzak, (cinematographer for Land of the Dead) behind the camera, McDonald's producers went looking for the cash to make the film. While it wasn't the easiest process, they were able to procure the necessary funds to start shooting. McDonald explains how they were able to convince people to give up their hard-earned cash in a recession economy.
"It has McHattie, Miraslaw and McDonald," says McDonald. "It's contained, it's a genre pic, it's doable and fun."
For a filmmaker like McDonald, renowned for working on the road with films like Hard Core Logo and Highway 61, there were some initial worries about working on the film. It was mostly set in a radio studio in a church basement, a small and cramped set, nothing like the vast and expansive wilderness that he was more accustomed to shooting in.
"I was scared to shoot there," says McDonald. "I've always had an open canvas. I love that I can go and explore things. It wasn't just a challenge to make a film in a closed space for two weeks. I felt like I had cabin fever by the end of it."