Pod, from prolific indie auteur Mickey Keating (Darling, Carnage Park) is another entry in the Cabin In The Woods subgenre, but while it lacks ambition in terms of story, that’s the perils of low budget moviemaking. It’s more a testament to Keating’s skill and ambition as a moviemaker that he can get so much work done and with such diverse storylines that you can’t help be swayed to his side. For me, he’s a middle of the road writer/director, but I have wondered how much growth could happen in his work if he were to be given a budget where he doesn’t have to worry about the small stuff.
The cabin in the woods horror subgenre has a hit or miss track record – The Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, some elements of the Friday 13th franchise, Dreamcatcher, and of course, The Cabin In The Woods all tell their stories within this framework. Pod is much closer in both spirit and content to the awful Dreamcatcher, but a lot better. Of course, not that a favourable comparison to Dreamcatcher is glowing praise – that movie must go down as one of the worst adaptations of a Stephen King book I’ve seen, but the book was not all that great to begin with, mind you. Pod comes off as being a bit too derivative of Dreamcatcher to really be seen as its own animal, but what Keating does with the premise and a budget of (maybe) $500,000 should be an example to all low-budget moviemakers, many of whom are unable to transcend amateur status. Keating thinks with scope in both writing and direction, and while his work could be better, it’s terrific, considering his restrictions.
Another plus for Keating is his use of a list of actors who frequently rotate through the indie horror genre. I mentioned this before in my review of Jug Face, and I get a kick out of seeing the same actors being used differently in each movie. It’s one of the things that appeals to me about the extremely patch FX show American Horror Story. Pod’s cast is small, but it contains Dean Cates and Brian Morvant from Keating’s Ritual, and Larry Fessenden (Jug Face, We Are Still Here), and Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling, Jug Face). Carter in particular I’m a fan of, and I want to see more of her in bigger and better projects.
Here in Pod, though, she’s not given a lot to work with. Her character is secondary to the main protagonist, played by Cates, and is written as a somewhat typical female character for the genre. After a promising early scene, she quickly becomes simply a passive foil for the male protagonist and spends much of the time either asking questions or screaming. It’s disappointing, but her exemplary work in Darling, a year later than Pod, proves the level of talent she has.
I said earlier that Pod lacks ambition, and while this is affected by budget, the story itself is very narrow and too focused on the main story. There’s not a lot of room in the 80 minute running time to do anything other than tell that story. Personally speaking, I prefer a story with a stronger framework of plot and subplot, and I would gladly sit through a longer movie to get that. Pod is severely underplotted – a great example of that is Carter’s character itself. In Act 1, her appearances are defined by the strong implications that she is an addictive personality type with alcohol and probably other substance abuse problems, but these issues don’t affect either the main plot, or even her own character arc – there’s a real sense of missed opportunities like this throughout the script.
The story is that of three siblings, one of which is an army vet suffering from some kind of PTSD (Morvant is good, but takes it a little too far, to the point where he mostly just becomes a collection of manic tics), and is described as an “intervention gone wrong” in various synopses I’ve come across online, but that’s not really what the story is about. Things don’t go wrong because of the intervention, it’s that the intervention takes place at a time when the events in the story are already bad, and those elements are nothing to do with the intervention itself. The story, in fact, is a conspiracy theory/monster movie that feels more like a season five X-Files story. There’s not a lot here, as evidenced by the fact that even in a short movie like this one, there are way too many scenes with too much dialogue that feels repetitive. Scenes between Carter and Cates in Act 1 feel repeated too many times, and when they meet up with their paranoid brother, their scenes with him go on too long, with no real plot advancement.
Another thing I felt was grossly underwritten is the family aspect. Regardless of the story, the movie is about three siblings, two of which have some problems. Everything else is just dressing. How the movie ends should have been a truly resonating moment – there’s a sense that Keating intended this to be the case from one of the final scenes, but there’s not enough work done prior to it in order for this to be the defining moment of the story. Likewise, when Larry Fassenden appears, his character is vague and anonymous, and given the nature of the character it was likely intended – the trouble is that like the movie as a whole, he has not a lot of depth, only the lasting feeling that there was supposed to be.