Although I’m in the apparent minority of those that were unimpressed with CARNAGE PARK, it is undeniable that Mickey Keating is on a trajectory that will eventually see him regarded as a horror wunderkind. While I similarly felt that DARLING didn’t live up to its full potential, I have found my favorite Keating project in POD. A tight, economical homage to the paranoid science fiction properties of yesteryear, POD is masterfully minimal in both location and concept. The film tells the story of Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Ed (Dean Cates), two siblings who go to stage an intervention at the family lake house for their psychologically disturbed brother Martin (Brian Morvant) after receiving a frantic phone call. As Martin begins to exhibit increasingly upsetting and untethered behavior, claiming that the government experimented on him while he was a soldier and that there’s a strange creature in his basement, Lyla and Ed soon realize that there may be more truth to his stories than they’d like to believe.
What is particularly commendable about POD is the fact that Keating is willing to let his narrative breathe. The entire second act is essentially a stage play, with Lyla, Ed, and Martin all feverishly bickering about just what is in the lake house basement and how to proceed. Although this could easily take the wind out of the film’s sails and render it boring, all three actors are such commanding presences on screen that it ends up being a rousing success. Also appearing in DARLING, Lauren Ashley Carter further stakes her claim as a powerful horror actress to pay attention to, and Brian Morvant’s absolutely manic portrayal of a rapidly unraveling war veteran crawls under the skin. While certain specific segments may toe the line of overacting, anything over-the-top just further serves to make the audience’s nerves as frazzled as those of the characters. Further in Keating’s court is the fact that he interweaves all of the character’s internal shortcomings into the argument about Martin’ basement, with it becoming clear that all three sibling resent and mistrust each other to some degree, the consequences of which eventually become disastrous.
However, anyone who needs their sci-fi horror more visceral need not worry, as the third act is a deliciously deadly bit of creature feature horror. There’s a slight complaint to be had in the fact that Keating sidesteps any potentially tense ambiguity, making it crystal clear that Martin isn’t as delusional as Ed believes him to be, but the crackling energy of the finale is captivating enough for this to be overlooked. Keating pays off the small betrayals the siblings pulled on each other earlier, all of which end up making it more difficult for anyone to escape alive. The final twist is mildly disappointing, but lends more credence to Martin’s story, which contributes to a rather bleak and sobering conclusion that is reminiscent of the darker episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
It’s clear that Keating is a director obsessed with homage, and POD isn’t exactly subtle in its influences considering the television programming that Martin indulges in, but at least this time around, there’s a distinct sense of fresh, vibrant creativity. Keating takes ample time to develop his characters and their shaky relationships with each other, a rare feat in modern horror. With a nerve wracking buildup to an explosive ending, POD shouldn’t be missed.
Keating’s best work by a long shot, POD is a tight, economical homage to the paranoid science fiction properties of yesteryear.