Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Mickey Keating
Writer: Mickey Keating
Producer: Mickey Keating, Morgan White, Sean Fowler, William Day Frank
Stars: Lauren Ashley Carter, Dean Cates, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, John Weselcouch
Attempting to stage an intervention at their remote family cabin, two siblings discover that their PTSD-afflicted brother may be telling the truth about a dangerous conspiracy theory.
There is a two-word descriptor that simplifies how “Pod” can be categorized as a film type, although identifying it out loud pulls back the curtain prematurely on the movie’s pseudo-surprise and betrays the full range of subgenres that “Pod” stirs into its pot. Writer/director Mickey Keating’s sophomore feature is a dish best served cold, with limited foreknowledge of its plot and without expectation for anything more robust than a lean, mean blend of paranoid thriller and what’s-behind-the-door suspense.
Ed is a bespectacled stuffed shirt, prone to puffing his nose in the air while perpetually passing judgment on his slightly flighty sister. Lyla would be otherwise content to puff her own nose full of cocaine while entertaining her latest boy toy, but big brother Ed needs her to stow her stash and their troubled history for an impromptu road trip to the family cabin in Maine. No need to bring the bathing suits though, as it is the dead of winter and this is going to be far from any ordinary woodland weekend getaway.
By comparison, Ed and Lyla’s personal issues are a grain of sand on their brother’s bountiful beach of PTSD problems. Since being dishonorably discharged over an incident involving a maimed nurse and a stolen tank, military man Martin has only further submerged himself headfirst in a maddening pit of delusional conspiracy theories. Now lured to the lonesome lake house by a cryptic message full of more feverish frenzy than Martin’s usual ravings, Ed and Lyla quickly find themselves helplessly trapped alongside their brother in a nightmare no one would have previously believed possible.
Looking back on it later, this setup can seem superfluous what with how deeply dipped it is in soapy sibling relationship melodrama. While “Pod” remains a mostly straight arrow and uncomplicated to-the-point affair, act one operates a teeter-totter alternating between more-thorough-than-most character development and possibly unnecessary exposition. The intent to flesh out a feeling of authentic personalities ultimately works to make the wild reveal that much more plausible, except those aching to run right into the action may find their faces tilting sleepily towards the floor in the meanwhile.
In a similar vein, any time you end up knee deep in a horror movie and a supposedly “crazy” character spouts off insane ideas concerning military experiments and government cover-ups, smart money can always bank on him being absolutely right. “Pod” takes the “is he or is he not a crackpot” scenario somewhat further than its legs can cover the stride, but with a runtime that breezes by at just 76 minutes, the leisurely lingering backstories and ambiguity indulgences avoid stealing enough time to fully bloom into insurmountable pacing problems.
“Pod” oftentimes senses precisely when its accordion-like tempo has pulled so far that its ends need to quickly snap back together. When the script doesn’t have a beat planned to do exactly that, Keating injects jarring jolts through artificial means instead. Unexpected music video intercuts and masterful sound design pump instant helium into the atmosphere every time the buildup deflates into too flat of a mood. That sense of timing for when to raise the heartbeat of both the film and the audience maintains intrigue while ensuring nerves remain rattled throughout quieter interludes.
With its pared down cast and Spartan set design, “Pod” bears the earmarks of a production keeping a close eye on its limited checkbook. Yet while similarly budget-conscious thrillers can show their cards as carelessly homebrewed efforts, “Pod” clarifies its commitment to sincere suspense with earnestly energetic performances and a passion for stylish presentation. Cast and crew alike engage in a mild wink of filmmaking fun, though not at the expense of delivering a biting bit of eerie entertainment tuned for a late night crowd willing to share in the enthusiasm behind the project.
Reminiscent of psychological thrillers like “Bug” mixed with elements of “The Outer Limits,” “The X-Files,” and cabin in the woods fright fests, “Pod” asks for only a small investment of patience before its climax kicks into high gear. Once it does, anyone spellbound by the ambiance of the film’s dread-drenched snowy setting and tightly coiled score can expect nails to puncture upholstery in moments when it is least expected.
Review Score: 85