United States. Directed by Mickey Keating, 2015. Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Dean Cates, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden, John Weselcouch. 76 minutes.
At last year’s Fantastic Fest, I saw Darling, the second of two feature films Mickey Keating made in 2015; the first was Pod, a tale of family dysfunction, madness, and military secrets. Brian Morvant stars as Martin Matheson, an Army veteran going not-so-quietly insane in rural Maine. His erratic behavior worries his brother Ed (Dean Cates), who collects their sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter), intending to stage an intervention. In response, Martin spins a wild tale of what he calls the “Pod,” a…thing…the Army attempted to harness, but which killed most of Martin’s fellow soldiers instead. And now, Martin’s convinced that the Pod has come for him.
Pod is a solidly middle-of-the-road horror effort featuring some light social commentary, its effect coming through suspense and SFX rather than psychological examination or existential dread. If Keating ever means for the audience to seriously believe the Pod might not be real, it wasn’t evident to me (and Netflix promoting the film with a huge picture of the monster didn’t help).
At a scant 75 minutes, Pod has little time for deep characterization or backstory, but the screenplay uses brief, deft strokes to fill in the necessary blanks: the film delineates almost everything you need to know about the Matheson’s troubled dynamic in its first five or ten minutes. We’re all familiar with the “murderous military bioweapon” trope by now, and Keating makes thin use of it, although Martin’s instability compensates for that. Sure, he’s right about the Pod, but that doesn’t actually make him sane.
Pod’s chief strengths are in its production values and its performances. Its visual style betrays its presumably small budget, but once Ed and Lyla get to Maine, Keating effectively conveys both the remoteness and isolation of the locale and the cramped claustrophobia of Martin’s cabin. He compresses violent sequences into tighly-packed bundles, and the Pod’s design, while not entirely “convincing” or “realistic” is certainly aesthetically impressive. Carter and Cates both impress in their roles; Morvant occasionally goes a little over-the-top but not unforgivably so. Larry Fessenden (who also worked with Keating and Carter in Darling) turns in a particularly memorable if brief performance late in the film.
Pod is a freaky little creature feature with a modern twist; a fun watch, although it’s not likely to give anyone lasting nightmares.