PLOT: When two estranged siblings head out to a snow dappled lake-house to intervene their deeply troubled brother, a paranoid delusion of grandeur turns into a nightmarishly real bloodbath.
REVIEW: Once averaging a new film every two years - the short ULTRA VIOLENCE (2011) and feature debut RITUAL (2013) - writer/director Mickey Keating ups the output quotient with his latest release POD, the first of three completed films of his in 2015. Call it overextension, being stretched too thin, whatever...the result of POD is a prolix sci-fi three-hander that feels too slight, too abbreviated and inconsequential to really make a lasting mark. In fact, at 78 or so minutes, the film hardly constitutes a legitimate feature, and instead feels far more like a glorified short film that's been stuffed and padded to needlessly prolong the story. A bit of a shame since, after a deathly slow first half, the last 20 or so minutes of the film (no coincidence when Larry Fessenden shows up) proffers a chest-pulsing array of horror goodies. Again though, a case of too little too late.
POD picks up with Ed (Dean Cates), an upstanding family man who pays a visit to his estranged sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter), a perfect storm of booze and drug addled volatility. I mean, the poor girl can't even function without a splash of whiskey in her morning Joe. You know the type. As Ed tries to trade pleasantries with his unwelcoming sis, he informs her that their other brother Martin (Brian Morvant) - a psychotically unhinged war vet - is in grave peril. Turns out that Martin has holed up at the family's snowbound lake-house, and is need of his siblings' help. Yet when Ed and Lyla arrive, Martin's mental state is unfit to say the least. He trusts no one, including his brother and sister, and as we learn, has a military past that goes beyond the psychic toll of PTSD. Apparently Martin underwent serious psychological experimentation by the government or military that has rendered a severe schizoid demeanor. When he tells his fam that he's not alone, that a lethally mutant Pod is trapped in the basement of the lake-house, we, like Ed and Lyla, can't tell if he's telling the truth or just projecting hallucinatory side-effects. What gives?!
Intrigue and paranoia abound, at least for a little while, as Ed and Lyla try to decipher how much truth Martin is telling and how much he's fabricating. One of the strengths of the first half of the film, perhaps the only, is how just how murky things are in regards to this so called POD whose supposed attack Martin thwarted before holding the thing captive in the basement. The mystery is taut and tense for brief bit, and underscores the larger issues of vets coming home with crippling mental debilitation. That I dug. Problem is, it takes too long getting there, and when it finally does, it's abandoned far too abruptly. Once Martin's hand is tipped for real, the intrigue washes away and we're essentially left with a shut-in monster movie among four actors and a single location. From here the flick offers very little we've not seen before, even if the shift from talkie-to-action culminates in the most scintillating 15-20 minutes of the entire movie.
No surprise, once Larry Fessenden arrives onscreen, the film accelerates quite a bit. But it's not enough. I mean, for a top-billed performance, the venerated genre vet only appears in a pair of scenes, and does so in unrecognizable, clean shaven and bespectacled fashion. Kind of a copout really, giving such a seasoned actor so little to do and still use his name to sell the product. That said, it's when his character shows up - a shadowy government agent of some kind - that the film hits its highest gear and revs toward a drearily conclusive death-toll. The crimson-lit basement scenes and energetic monster-on-the-loose vibe are definitely the strong points of the films back-half, right down to the scaly skeletal design of the assailant itself. F*cking bastard looks like an embalmed Joan Rivers (RIP!), slithering its way through what ultimately amounts to a generic and conventional haunted house gauntlet.
In the simplest way to put it, POD has a seedling of brilliance that never fully bears out. The first half of the film is overwrought with too much talk - family bantering and the reminiscence of past transgressions - and too little action. It'd be one thing if this portion succeeded in actually building likeability in its characters, but sadly, it doesn't. Then, when the transition is finally made into a higher horror speed, there's just not enough to go around and compensate for the preceding lack. That said, I enjoyed the assured photography, the oddly amphibious design of the monster, the supercharged finale and even some of the societal subtexts the film glanced upon. But in the end, I can't help but think POD could have used a little more time to germinate.