SXSW Review: Pod is A Manic, Overnight Ordeal

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Like his debut feature, the straightforward-yet-mega stylized Ritual, Mickey Keating’s Pod is mostly an overnighter. The young, excitable director injects energy into his movies, clearly interested in the propulsive snowball of an extreme situation that only grows more so. Riffing on another classical genre style, Pod switches out Ritual’s desert motel dilemma for the frozen Northeast and paranoid sci-fi horror to unfold like a 75-minute argument. The kind that you’re afraid won’t end unless someone dies. They do. 

Pod is about a trio of siblings who aren’t terribly close. Martin (Brian Morvant), a traumatized veteran has happened upon something at his family’s lake home in Maine and, already struggling mentally, sets off flags for brother, Ed (Dean Cates) and sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter). The latter two take a ride up out of worry and affection, especially for Lyla, who seems to hold the estranged, troubled Martin dear.

It’s a talented, intimate ensemble, with Cates and Carter almost immediately establishing the cadence of siblings absolutely unable to “get” each other as people. Bad blood is a fascinating type and the sort of dry, blunt ways we can address family lend Pod a sense of bubbling tension and mania with little release. Which is exactly the intent. Following the film’s premiere, director Keating revealed his interest in the characters as brothers and sister is the particular relationships that entails, one with especially no sexual tension and which mirrors cinematographer Mac Fisken’s cold landscape and harsh, constricting interiors.

The home, surrounded by stunning, frigid nature, is disrupted by pained, alarmed dog barks from the onset. Though shot still and mannered, it’s disquieting. So are our siblings, products of nature and family yes, but almost always with voices raised at the world and each other. When inside Martin’s paranoid den, Keating and Frisken opt for the air of handheld, the three in utter, crescendoing chaos. Ed and Lyla are frightened by Martin’s state of disrepair, while Martin is suspect of his family and the otherworldly being he claims is in the basement. Keating and Frisken want the viewer involved—a fourth sibling—so the immediacy of the handheld is as utterly confounded (often spinning) by Martin, his theories and his dark home, as Ed and Lyla are.

Again, similar to Ritual, Pod is a straightforward narrative given heavy, harsh style. Pod strobes and smash cuts and pushes in on TVs, both escalating the sense of unease and discomfort, but also enjoying the ways it creates such atmosphere as only film can. Ritual had a similar preoccupation, with the viewer and the film itself aware the characters are increasingly in a situation purely from movieland. Later in Pod, a third act entrance from indie horror legend Larry Fessenden—draped in trenchcoat and fog—only pushes Pod’s movie-ness.

This works. Whether it will sustain a third feature remains to be seen, but Pod is a jarring, exciting cinematic funhouse; an aspect seemingly inherent to Keating’s developing voice. In two features, the director is intent on bursting into various subgenres, not with a focus on deconstruction but—with manic narratives that take place over hours—certainly tearing shit up.