Pod Review [SXSW 2015]
There’s something to be said about a movie built on streamlined efficiency, but Pod takes its down-and-dirty mentality a bit too seriously. At the film’s post-screening Q&A, director Mickey Keating revealed that he’d wanted to collaborate on a horror film with a specific producer as quickly as possible, and that speed in production becomes noticeable as you watch what could be one of the more cut-and-dry creature features you’ll ever see. Some viewers will absolutely adore Keating’s ability to go from Point A to Point B with absolutely zero frills, but for others (including myself), Pod blows by like an inconsequential nightmare that’s over before it even begins.
Keating’s story follows Ed (Dean Cates) and Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter), a brother and sister team who are worried about their more unstable brother Martin (Brian Morvant), so they set out for the family-owned cabin he calls home. Upon their arrival, Martin begins rambling about a military conspiracy that’s threatening his life, and he claims to be holding a “pod” captive in the basement. Ed doesn’t believe the tall tale, as any rational human would have doubts, but Martin bolsters his argument by showing off a set of scratches that indicate a struggle of sorts. Faced with a choice, the siblings decide that only a basement inhabitant can confirm or deny Martin’s story, but if he’s right, are Lyla and Ed ready to face the horrifying truth?
Credit Keating with throwing together some tense moments of claustrophobic monster horror, which he’s able to generate by using a tiny cabin located in the middle of a wooded lake area. It’s your typical cabin-in-the-woods type of experience, but cinematographer Mac Fisken frames the shots perfectly to hide shadowy angles that could be hiding whatever aggressive monster is chasing Lyla and Ed. You will be scared, but more importantly, you’ll gaze upon a snowy landscape with a beautifully sinister feel, and for that, Keating’s team deserves a tip of the cap.
But while Keating strives to build a straight-forward thriller, his cast struggles to find the same simplistic energy that such a character-driven horror film so desperately demands. All the characters are guilty of hammy dramatics at one point or another, from Ed’s abrasive attitude towards Lyla to Martin’s incessant running-in-cirles through repetitive dialogue, but Lyla is on a completely different planet when it comes to off-putting horror personalities.
Lauren Ashley Carter plays a rebellious sister who butts heads with Ed in the most sarcastic of ways, but it’s her turn as a terrified genre victim that makes Carter’s performance almost hard to watch. She NEVER stops crying or screaming, even before any type of monster introduces itself into the fold, as she goes off on screechy, high-pitch outbursts of emotion like a tantrum-throwing child. Then, when she has to flee from her pursuer later in the film, she spends the entire time screaming at the top of her lungs, as to only increase the annoyance. There is no depth to Layla, brought upon by Keating’s willingness to waste little time with background information, but Lyla’s composition monotonously reduces Carter’s role to a bawling pile of overbearing feels unfit for tense moments of genre establishment. Let’s not even address how you’d probably want to draw minimal attention to yourself in such a scenario, anyway.
As for the creature, all the usual shots are utilized. Lights go out in the dark basement only to pop back on for a quick figure reveal, the camera shakes whenever the beast is in frame for too long, and any battle with the creature is more like a speedy collection of flashes that rock back and forth between man and monster – there’s nothing daringly new. Well, aside from a pretty neat closing-sequence where the house is empty, yet the camera still searches each room, like we’re physically looking for whatever could still be lurking. It’s a cheap tactic, yet it’s oddly enjoyable. Again, Pod is able to find tension, but it’s just too undercooked.
By running at a brisk seventy-ish minutes, Pod becomes an accessible watch that anyone should try given a little free time. Maybe you’ll be more forgiving of such a rapid-fire approach to horror filmmaking, but between Layla’s borderline unwatchable nature, to a story that doesn’t really have time to explain any of the chilling actions taking place, Keating’s latest film struggles with being a talky, under-complicated breeze. But hey, maybe that’s exactly what you’re looking for?
Pod is a simple, frantic creature feature that's over before you know it, but that's not necessarily a good thing.