Netflix Roulette: Pod

I was feeling lucky after yesterday’s spin of the Netflix Roulette wheel… though, the four relative duds from last week were in the back of mind. I’m happy to report that today’s movie was another winner. Maybe not as good as Patrick, but if you’re able to get yourself through the first twenty minutes, there is something here… something worth watching.

Pod is a small film. It stars a total of five people… though, two of those people probably have a combined screen time of five minutes. The plot revolves around three siblings: Martin, a veratrin with a history of mental illness, Ed, a therapist who is the parentified sibling, and youngest and troubled sister Lyla (and the most problematic character (more on this later)). After receiving a message from Martin telling them not to come to their family lake house Ed and Lyla ignoring the warning fearing that Martin is going through another break. When they get there, Martin tells them a story that involves military experiments and a creature that he has captured and is holding captive in the basement. I don’t want to give more than this away, as the second half of the movie focuses on whether or not Martin’s story is true or just another delusion. When I started the movie and realized this was the direction the filmmaker (writer and director Mickey Keating) was taking, I was afraid it was going to hedge its bets and keep the ending vague. All I will say is that you will get a concrete answer to the question at the core of the film… perhaps too concrete of an answer.

This movie ended up winning me over, which is surprising considering the number of issues it had to get over. That’s may be the best place to start. Let’s talk about what doesn’t work in Pod… there’s actually, quite a bit, so you’ll probably be surprised with my overall conclusion (though, probably not, since I just gave it away). The opening twenty-minutes of this film are rough. We spend it with Ed and Lyla as they make their way to the cabin. This is where the cracks show the most, which is unfortunate considering the fact that this is the viewer’s introduction to the film. I had originally written in my notes that the acting was really bad and it didn’t help that many of the lines they had to deliver were clunky. The more I think back to it though, I’m not sure if the acting is bad or if it’s more that these two characters are utterly unlikeable. Martin is a lecturing, pompoms jerk while Lyla is a sniveling follower. Since we spend twenty minutes with these two characters arguing with each other there is very little to root for… except maybe for the two of them to drive into a embankment and have the credit role early. I found the sister’s characterization especially problematic throughout the film. She bounces back and forth between the two male characters and never really seems to form her own opinions or beliefs. This is especially problematic since Lyla is the only female in the movie. I’m not saying she had to be the hero of the movie (in fact, that might be a bit cliché), but I would have liked her to at least have a scene of her own… not just a plaything for the two other characters or a body to bounce exposition off of. There were also some interesting directorial decisions that may or may not work for viewers. There are several overly directed, almost arty choices (I didn’t really need a lingering shot on milk in a cup of coffee). These actually start to work in the film’s favor once we’re in the cabin, but the filmmaker introduces these way too early in the film and it just felt a bit pompous and unnecessary. Finally, during the opening act of the film there are far too many lingering shots of unremarkable scenery with ominous music playing. I’m not sure if the filmmaker was trying to let viewers know that scary stuff was coming or if he was trying to manipulate viewers into feeling unsettled… either way, it didn’t work for me.

Here’s the thing though, once we’re in the cabin, all of these issues recede into the background for the remainder of the film. I found myself utterly engrossed. There are three major reasons for this. First, I thought the filmmaker handled Marty’s character deftly. The actor is over-the-top, but it works. It makes you jump back and forth between believing and doubting him… sometimes several times in a single rant (of which there are many). Marty came across as scary and yet somehow also sympathetic. Second, the staging of the cabin was excellent. You got a good feel for the layout of the house, and each room was expertly set up (granted there are only really four or five rooms). I can only imagine how long it took the crew to set up this location. It truly looked like a cabin where a paranoid schizophrenic in the midst of a break (as diagnosed by his brother) has been holed up in for weeks. I’m always impressed when a filmmaker is able to make the setting part of the horror. This helps, since the majority of the film takes place in just a few rooms and there is a great deal of discussion and argument and very little true action. Finally, while the plot of the film is fairly straightforward and predictable the timing feels off. Things happen sooner than I expected and this threw me off and made me doubt my predictions.

There are a couple addition observations I would like to share, but they will hint towards the outcome of the mystery. I won’t out-and-out spoil anything, but anyone who is worried about even minor spoilers should stop here. If so, I’ll see you tomorrow… if not, keep reading below.

First, while the middle section of the film sucked me in, the last ten minutes or so spit me out. This wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me, and I still think it’s worth a watch. However, it seemed like the filmmaker wasn’t quite sure how to end the movie. It felt a bit tacked one. Second, if you are going to watch this movie on Netflix, try to click on it and avoid the image that comes up when you selecting to play the movie. It ruins one of the best scares of the movie.

That’s it for today. Hopefully, the streak will continue tomorrow.

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