The Horror Honeys: Sci-Friday ~ Pod People or Paranoid PTSD?

Sci-Friday ~ Pod People or Paranoid PTSD?

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Pod (2015)

Let’s hear it for the little movies with the big horror hearts; the ones that don’t have a whole lot in the way of A-list actors, production values, or bottom lines, but make up for it (or at least attempt to) in creativity and ambition. Making its way onto DVD and Netflix Instant after premiering at last year’s South by Southwest festival is one such film: Mickey Keating’s Pod, an indie that feels tiny all-around, from the handful of characters stuck in a single primary location to a runtime that barely passes the one-hour mark. Little films can land with a big impact, however, and this one is able to reimagine some widely used conventions of sci-fi fiction with images and scares that pack a decent punch. Are they enough, though, for Pod to leave an indelible impression that lasts beyond its 76 minutes of screen time?

The film begins and ends in one snowy spot, with only a tiny detour in between to get all of our characters together: a maniacal military vet, Martin (Brian Morvant), who is holed up in a rural family cabin, and his brother and sister Ed and Lyla (Dean Cates, Lauren Ashley Carter) who come to his aid after a rambling voicemail alerts them to his deteriorating mental state. Martin has been in a hospital before, and is exhibiting behavior that is symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia; his brother Ed sees this as an opportunity for an intervention and has plans to drag him back to a VA hospital. Lyla is shaken up out of a partied-out stupor to act as a buffer between the brothers, never quite lucid or rational enough to know who to side with. As the brother’s arguing becomes more combative, Martin reveals that his behavior all stems from military-led experiments that sound like they would be right at home in Mulder’s conspiracy mythos from The X-Files – and he’s got the result of one such experiment, a ‘Pod,’ locked in the basement. Ed doesn’t believe the rantings of a man who has resorted to pulling out his own teeth and barricading the windows with tinfoil to avert the government baddies, but then again, there ARE some strange noises coming from behind that basement door...

Tinfoil: keeping aliens out since 1974.
Sounds promisingly creepy, right? Pod is full of promise from beginning to end, and delivers on many aspects of what it sets out to do, beginning with a premise that could just as easily be the musings of a psychotic man rather than an extraterrestrial/governmental conspiracy. The film’s string-heavy, tightly-wound score combined with rapid-fire editing saturates the film with enough tension to maintain an air of unease throughout, and the lake house and surrounding wooded environment is so beautifully photographed that it’s a visual feast even when nothing particularly shocking is going on. In a technical sense, Pod achieves a lot of what bigger-budget horror movies still struggle with on a regular basis: setting up a story in a fear-inducing environment that keeps the audience in suspense from one minute to the next.

Worst family intervention ever.
Despite all that the film has going for it, however, Pod suffers from more than a few shortcomings that keep it from being altogether memorable in the grand scheme of indie horror/sci-fi offerings. Keating has set the stage for an explosive confrontation between the film’s trio of siblings, but the script never manages to mine material that goes beyond garden variety familial bickering and nitpicking. All actors involved try their damnedest to out-scream one another, but their biting rants and interjections become really tiring, really fast – and though Pod occupies a brief runtime, you’ll be begging for them to just get to the basement already to end it all. Lauren Ashley Carter as sister Lyla was seemingly directed to deliver her performance with the same frozen expression of horrified awe on her face for the entire film, which becomes a mild distraction from any semblance of importance her character might have had to offer. Genre regular Larry Fessenden, though billed first in the film’s credits, is criminally underutilized both as a seasoned veteran of horror as well as a crucial character in fleshing out the conspiracy angle of the story. His involvement, as well as the various plot threads that Keating only had time to tease at, leaves much to be desired by the film’s end.

Maybe she's got permanent shock face because it's so cold?
Had Keating been afforded a larger-scale budget and broadened his few good ideas, Pod might have risen above what ultimately feels like a slightly long, supernatural-themed episode of A&E’s Intervention. As it stands, Pod needed to go in one of two directions: a more truncated version of its various ideas, curbed into an X-Files or Twilight Zone-esque episode of television; or a larger-scale exploration of each central character and the various paths that bring them to an existential crossroads at the lake house. The titular ‘Pod’ inside the film, as well as the film itself, turns out to be a very different thing than what you might have pictured in your head. This incongruity is disappointing for a film that clearly has a big heart for sci-fi, but not enough creative momentum to sustain an entire full-length feature.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Two-and-a-half ‘Pod’ people out of five

Pod is available via Netflix Streaming, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

Have you discovered the secret of Pod?
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