Thursday, February 04, 2016

POD (2015) Directed by Mickey Keating

I'd love to tell you that the dearth of posts of late are due to me furiously working away on our latest print installment (that'd be ER 53 coming... "soon"). Unfortunately, the holidays, holiday illness, ennui, freelance projects, record snowstorms and an unscheduled six days home from school for the little one all translate into next to nothing getting done. But that doesn't mean we're short on hot, fresh content for you! In fact, as the review stack teeters behind me I'm happy to welcome our neighbor to the north, Devin Kelly, to the contributor roster. This is the first of Devin's reviews being published to the site but you'll be seeing much more from him in the weeks and months to come and in our bulging 30th Anniversary Issue. – DT

That old adage of "less is more" is one to live by where the horror and science-fiction genres of filmmaking are concerned. Far too often today – with the ability to pretty much do it all through technology and the like – the idea that seemingly everything and anything goes has never been more apparent. Then films like Mickey Keating's POD (2015) come around, and we're reminded what one can do when stripping things down to the bare essentials, regardless of whether budget constraints sometimes force that hand or not.

In Keating's film (set primarily within the wintery confines of an old family lake house), we've essentially got three central characters to focus on, all siblings. Second-born Ed (Dean Cates) sets things in motion after receiving a disturbing and eerily incoherent voicemail from estranged older brother Martin (Brian Morvant). Knowing of his elder kin's state of mind and deep personal struggles since returning from the war, the message is enough to send Ed into damage control-mode, with the idea that a small intervention might be appropriate before things spiral further ("...and I am not up for burying both my parents and my brother on the same side of this decade!"). Unbeknownst to everyone, however, this ordeal escalated and unravelled long, long ago.

Enter the third and youngest sibling (as well as the only girl of the three) – combative and rebellious sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter). Ed hopes to bring her along as a way to quell some of the expected fury and resentment Martin is likely to elicit, with little sis being much closer to her older brother than the up-down relationship he has with Ed. Closeness aside, neither of the two have any inkling of the madness that lies ahead at the old lakeside retreat once regularly and fondly visited upon by their late-mother and father ("If Dad saw this place he'd be spinnin' in his grave"). This is something more than a mental breakdown induced by the monstrosities of combat in the service, however. Ed and Lyla have only to discover it.

As the determined Ed pulls up to the place through the white-covered woods showing the season, with sister in tow, it doesn't take much more than a glance to see that things are immediately off. Doors and windows completely plastered with tinfoil and waste bag plastic, a frenzied knock at the front renders zero response. With spare key put to use and the loud announcement of worried family members on the property, younger brother's voice soon trails off as his eyes slowly survey the deplorable conditions Martin has allowed a place of memories to stoop to. When a rampaging, psycho-gazed Martin comes storming in with hunting rifle ready to unload, the intensity factor goes from one to ten in a hurry (primarily through a wonderfully unhinged performance from Morvant). Ranting violently about takeovers and "pods", Ed and Lyla are left only to look on in bewilderment and terror. And when Martin speaks quite matter-of-factly about a certain something he's encountered, captured, and left captive in a heavily door-bolted room connecting to the basement, they can only conclude that he's slipped beyond any possibility of recovery or help ("No! Stop! Listen to me! Look at me! Do not under any circumstances go into that back room! Do you understand?! ANSWER ME!!"). Or has he? What has in fact triggered this talk of pods and who else is aware of it? Grab yourself a copy of POD and maybe you'll get your answers!

Much of what makes POD great is the believability of three relative unknowns in Lauren Ashley Carter (THE WOMAN, JUG FACE), Brian Morvant (THE BIG BAD), and Dean Cates (RITUAL). Morvant excels as the wildly unbalanced, internally-menaced Martin. Even in the lengthier moments of dialogue exchange, no moment or movement is wasted in Morvant's portrayal ("Oswald, Whitman, Timothy fuckin' McVeigh! What did they have in common? Huh?! Tell me what they had in common! They were all soldiers. They were all brainwashed fall guys who took the hit! And then, what happened to them? They got fuckin' nailed to the cross for it!"). Of the two, it is young Lyla who suggests that perhaps there's a sliver of something to what big bro is trying to get through to them. "What if he really does have something trapped in the basement?! What if he found something in the woods?!" she proposes. Always putting supposed common sense forward, Ed the skeptic shuts her down with sarcastic anger ("Jesus Christ, what if he's got the fuckin' mailman down there, Lyla?!"). As an added bonus for horror hounds is the presence of genre journeyman, Larry Fessenden (THE LAST WINTER, I SELL THE DEAD, WE ARE STILL HERE), who turns up in the third act as a mysterious government man called 'Smith'.

All in all, director Keating (RITUAL) has something solid here to be proud of. POD is a fun and sometimes eerie little backwoods sci-fi-horror with tried-and-true elements combined with a subtle vagueness that creates an additional air of mystery. When things finally come to a head, there are some jump-worthy moments and a somewhat unnerving Giona Ostinelli original score doesn't hurt things either.

An Official Selection of the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival, POD makes the most of its short screen time and left this viewer quite satisfied. Although not a 'Found Footage' entry, the picture might make a diverting Double Feature with the same year's not so dissimilar THE ENCOUNTER (2015). – Devin Kelly

This is Devin's first review for ER's online outlets. Previously a contributor to Cinema Nocturna, Devin is a Canadian purveyor and surveyor of all things exploitative and you'll be seeing much more from him at the blog and website as well as in the pages of the upcoming ER 53. You can follow him on Facebook.

POD is available from Amazon

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