Pod is a 2015 independent horror movie that debuted at the SXSW film festival. The movie follows three siblings, two of whom are trying to bring their PTSD-riddled veteran brother back from the brink of insanity. Or maybe he's not insane at all. We saw the movie and talked about below, using copious spoilers. Our spoiler-filled review is below, and this is usually the point where we tell you to watch the trailer, but in this case the trailer has almost as many spoilers as our review. Seriously. Even the thumbnail they chose for Netflix is a dang spoiler. That's real too. So choose what to watch or read at your own risk. We're not your keepers.
Jack: Pod. This is a 2015 movie that was generally well-reviewed. I was all set to watch this on Netflix, but then I heard that the still image they chose for the movie on Netflix ruins the dang thing. Oh yeah, and the damn trailer. So I deftly avoided both. By deftly, I mean I asked my wife to search for the movie on my computer, click play, and then pause it and hand my computer to me. She didn’t think that was weird at all.
Jake: You’re welcome by the way. I took one for the team and watched the trailer, which completely blew its load, and warned you not to walk into the same trap. I’m a hero.
Jack: Anyway, through absolutely nothing other than my own ingenuity and poise under pressure, I did manage to see neither the trailer nor the poster, so I was going in spoiler-free. I mean, other than the name being Pod, which, spoiler, is kind of a spoiler in and of itself.
Jake: Only if you know horror movies… Which you probably do if you’re watching Pod… So, yeah. Nevermind. It wasn’t even trying to be discreet.
Jack: Or maybe it was, but the company that distributed it fucked up? In any case, the movie’s cold open is pretty great. One of the three main (and sort of only) characters, Martin, is running frantically through the snowy woods. The cinematography of these opening scenes is beautiful, with shots like a brook slowly still babbling under a layer of ice. Martin is scared. From this scene forward, Brian Morvant, the actor who plays Martin, is so fucking captivating every time he’s on screen. He’s great. And it makes you feel scared and frantic and isolated right off the bat.
Jake: What’s scaring Martin is that it sounds like something has killed his dog off in the wooded distance, adding a layer of disorientation to the already bleak snowscape. It definitely sets the stage well and paints an isolated setting for Martin. Also noteworthy is that we are not two minutes into the movie and shit is going down. It literally took the dog 1:53 to die in this one. I mean, it’s a horror movie, but still. Pretty aggressive. He goes to investigate, and it becomes very apparent that something is out there in the woods, and it may be coming for him next.
Jack: Then something happens that sort of ruins the immersion that Morvant’s acting and the gorgeous cinematography created. Martin has a rifle with him. It is very clearly a bolt-action rifle, which is even further emphasized by a scene later on, but that’s getting ahead of myself. So the rifle is obviously bolt-action, yet Martin is firing it off rapidly without ever touching the breech. It’s not as egregious as how many rounds Arnie has without a new mag in Commando, but it’s worth noting that this movie is going for a more gritty and relatable aesthetic.
Jake: Yeah man… It was extremely relatable in the way the title sequence came in out of fucking nowhere, and left almost as abruptly as it came... We’re talking about a seizure inducing six second typhoon of credits. At the front of the movie. It tore through the whole damn thing right there, only you couldn’t see it because it was going faster than matter being sucked into a black hole. I actually had a pretty visceral reaction to it. I think it was the bass, but goddamn I felt like my brain was going to melt out of my skull for a second. It was pretty much at that point that I knew this was not going to be a slow burn.
Jack: Then we’re introduced to the other two characters in the movie, Martin’s brother and sister, Ed and Lyla. Ed got a call from Martin that sounded like the paranoid ramblings of a seriously ill mofo. Martin is a veteran who has had mental health issues before, so Ed is concerned, and goes to get Lyla so they can stage an intervention of sorts up at their family’s lake house in Maine.
Jake: Ed rolls up to Lyla’s apartment and immediately has some really awkward dialogue with a coked out deviant. Ed really won me over in this scene with how he stays calm and has a sort of wry, holier-than-thou thing going on. He’s funny and it is particularly welcome against the instantly unbearable character Lyla is. Her first line is a scene where she just strings together “fuck” and “shit” about 20 times in an over the top shriek. Lock her in as the useless-chick-you-hate character. Ed calms her down enough by asking for only a few seconds of her time. When she relaxes enough to relent, he, knowing how negotiation works, immediately asks for coffee and seals the victory. It was hilarious.
Jack: I’m not sure. The chemistry between Ed and Lyla just feels really off. I can’t pinpoint if it’s the acting or the dialog, but it is just very clear that I’m watching two actors say lines to one-another. And the set for Lyla’s apartment pulled me out too. Lyla is a mess, it’s clear that she’s been a mess for a little while and lost touch with Ed because of it. She’s drinking a lot, doing cocaine, having random dudes leave her apartment in the morning, all the stuff that made Jenny from Forrest Gump a bad person or whatever the fuck that movie was saying about hippies. Anyway, Lyla’s apartment looks like they told a Mormon interior decorator to “make it look like she drinks too much.” There are a few artfully placed beer and liquor bottles and a mirror with cocaine residue in an otherwise clean and put-together apartment complete with fresh flowers.
Jake: Ed convinces Lyla they need to get to Martin and that it’s an urgent matter. So because they are family and love each other and all need to be there or some shit, they promptly leave after nursing their coffees. And proceed to drive to Maine. From Georgia. Urgent. Matter.
Jack: I want to take a second to point out the sound-design of this show is fantastic. It’s so fucking over the top, but in the best way. It stands out, but not in a way that ruins any immersion. It works really well. When they arrive, they find the extent of Martin’s descent into madness. The whole cabin in closed up, there’s tinfoil on all the windows, you know, the whole best-of catalog of the paranoid maniac hits.
Jake: "Show," huh? Weird word choice. The movie does a pretty good job of pulling you in during this scene because of everything that’s going on. Watching Ed and Lyla break into the house and see the paranoia their brother is suffering from was a pretty effective hook. The film is almost silent during this sequence, save for a schizophrenic score that fades in and out seemingly at random. This sequence also drags on and on, and does so for good effect. You know they are going to find Martin at some point, but the anticipation of what state he is going to be in is intense. In a shocking turn, he’s not in good shape at all.
Jack: Indeed. He is 31 different flavors of maniacal. Martin continues to be wholly captivating every time on screen, and this scene more than any other. He seems genuinely terrified, and he is rambling in a crazy way. He insists he’s captured some monster and locked it away in the basement. Still, at this stage, it’s not entirely clear whether he’s just a lunatic, or actually has a monster in the basement that the government is looking for. Personally, I still felt that he could be crazy, but crazy because he did really capture a pod in the basement (hey, I see what they did there).
Jake: I can’t give enough credit to Morvant for the job he did with Martin. This movie has a lot of long takes. A lot. And several of them are during some of his paranoid rants. His ability to hold character during these is pretty remarkable, and I can only assume he was flying blind on some of these so big ups on the improv skills, too. During this sequence, Lyla is reduced from a mess to a bumbling mess. Ed firmly believes Martin has completely lost his shit, while Lyla doesn’t know what to think. She gives him the benefit of the doubt and humors some of his batshit stories like how he’s ripped out his goddamned molars with a pair of pliers because he’s convinced the government implanted a tracking device in them. It’s an intense stretch of film.
Jack: Yeah, the scene is great. In an effort to bring Lyla back from the deep end of believing Martin, Ed goes upstairs to talk to her in private. Martin, meanwhile, has sabotaged their car, for reasons which were never abundantly clear to me.
Jake: Because he’s not going to let them take him back to rot in a cell, man. He saw The Longest Yard and knows there’s just no viable way to assemble dependable talent in prison league games. What more reason do you need?
Jack: Right. Clearly. Anyway, while he’s outside breaking an indeterminate number of car windows he appears to see something that spooks him even more than his paranoid schizophrenic ass already was. As you might expect, he does not handle it well and heads back inside.
Jake: We then rejoin Ed and Lyla as they argue about what to do with Martin. The scenes of them alone upstairs are s ome of my favorites in the film. It is frenetic. In one take, they have an argument while pacing around the room worriedly. The camerawork is pretty unique here too, as it moves with them at first, but begins to lose them as they move around. As the viewer you try to keep up as well. It’s effective at ratcheting up the level of discomfort even higher. Ed reveals that he’s been smuggling some prescription tranquilizers across state lines with the intent of helping to calm Martin down. At this point, Martin appears in the doorway, fresh from his refreshing car-sabotaging romp in the great outdoors, claims that “we’re all dead anyway” and slits his own throat. You know, as you do.
Jack: And again, Martin’s performance was just great, but the effects in this scene were sorely lacking. Martin slices his throat, and the blood sprays directly behind his neck. Our editor pointed out that he could see the blood spraying directly from the prop knife. Ed flies into action and tries to stop the bleeding, yet when he stands up, there is absolutely no blood on his pristine light-colored coat.
Jack: And it’s a shame because Martin’s death was terrifically effective otherwise. I didn’t see it coming and it hit hard.
Jake: Agreed. This might be the only portion of Lyla’s incessant wailing that fit with the action on screen. As one would expect, Ed is unsuccessful at keeping Martin alive.
Jack: Then Ed and Lyla hear a noise coming from the basement, and go to investigate. They unlock and enter the back room that leads to the basement.. Prior to this scene, the set design was sorta lackluster and predictable, at best, but the the design of the back room is near perfect. It’s the best goddamned lunatic room I’ve seen in awhile, maybe ever. Pages with crazy scribbles all over them, twine around the room, the whole nine yards. The only thing keeping it from being perfect is that front and center of the shot, is one page for which the chapter title is “World War II” and that’s just circled a couple times. I know that seems like an absurdly nitpicky thing to note, but: 1) welcome to A-Z Horror, you can go fuck yourself; and 2) I noticed it because of how godddamned perfect the rest of the room is. I loved it.
Jake: It’s true. We’re as good at nitpicking inconsequential shit as they were at designing his lunatic man-cave. It was well set-up and really made you worry about what is behind the boarded up door. Unless you’d seen the trailer, that is. Because if you’d seen the trailer, you’d know what’s back there because they already showed it. They showed all of it. Ed pries it open and decides to go down into the pitch black depths of the basement. Notably, he walks right past a light switch, presumably because he prefers the thrill of just using a flashlight. He ends up manually turning on a light once he gets downstairs, and the power for the whole house goes out.
Jack: I love the basement shot as Ed searches for the breaker box. The jump scare with the camera panning slowly across the basement and the monster in the corner is fantastic. It’s top notch. It’s what I want all jump scares to be. They don’t lazily rely on a loud sound or sudden movement. Instead they rely on immersion, the filmmakers know that you’ll be glued to the screen watching as the camera pans over. So when the monster is just there in the corner, it’s terrifying. Great shot.
Jake: Absolutely. Despite my quibbles above, I was still totally satisfied with the way the introduction of the creature was handled. The scene drags on for so long that you begin to cycle through all the ways the filmmakers might try to execute the jumpscare. There are multiple points when you think you’ve gotten there, but it just keeps going. Extremely effective. There is a weird sequence when the camera appears to shift to a POV view, but it wasn’t really noticeable at that point in the film. More to come on that.
Jack: Ed finds the breaker box, turns the power back on, and immediately gets attacked by the monster. No good deed, right? He eventually makes it out of the basement and manages to lock the monster in. He tells Lyla to run. And run she does. First she tries the car, but Martin had already disabled that. Then she tries the cabin next door, but no one’s there. Finally, she runs down the street and finds a lone car driving slowly.
Jake: She flags down the car and the movie immediately turns into something out of a Tarantino flick. A dude who is unmistakably a government agent calmly talks to her for a minute before pulling a gun and blowing her fucking head off. And it shows it twice. The guy, Smith, then gets out of the car and we get a freeze-frame of him both as he first exits and again when he puts her body in the trunk. It was so jarring and out of place that it felt like it belonged in another movie.
Jack: The double-take of the gunshot is such a weird scene. Nothing like that had happened in the movie before. And the two gunshots did not sound at all the same to me. Really bizarre. Plus that weird freeze-frame shot fades to sepia. Really had the feel of a police procedural TV show.
Jake: Meanwhile, Ed is back at the house and is beginning to feel the poisonous effects of the monster. It becomes clear that Martin wasn’t just insane but had been under the influence of some toxic shit. Not too surprising when you consider the creature is basically the mummy from the Brendan Fraser version of the movie. He finally finds Martin’s gun as the creature breaks free. He manages to shoot it and then proceeds to bash its head in with the butt of the rifle, “killing” it.
Jack: Yeah, this is what I was talking about earlier with the bolt-action rifle. This scene focuses so much on the trouble Ed has with reloading the rifle, that it’s very bizarre they didn’t focus on it at all in the cold-open.
Jake: Martin triumphantly babbles his poisoned-man babble and walks outside, calling for Lyla. From outside the frame, the agent shoots and kills him. He enters the house to find the creature dead and radios back to report it is dead and he is unsure if there is a colony of them nearby. And then the end. That last scene. What do we get? We get another baffling shift to a POV shot straight out of the end of the Doom movie from 2005. The scene culminates in a lazy and obvious jumpscare as the creature, who is decidedly not dead (or is undead? Who gives a fuck), kills the cameraman. I can’t think of any reason why it would have been filmed like that otherwise. The viewer is then assaulted by a freeze frame strobe light for a solid 10 seconds. It’s hard to tell exactly how long the strobe lasted because I was busy having a seizure.
Jack: "Poisoned-man babble" was by far the Smashing Pumpkins's best album. I hated the ending of this movie so much. It was about on par with the ending from Unfriended. And the monster jumps right at the fucking camera. This just adds the confusion regarding the POV shifts to the cameraman. Or did they not worry at all about that and just want an excuse for a jump scare? But not a good jump scare of which the filmmakers are clearly capable, but the kind of lazy one that I was disparaging earlier.
For 1, think of how you would rate the moral character of Val from Brink:
For 10, think of how Bluto would rate Whiskey:
Jack: 6 - I liked this story a fair little bit. I really liked the isolation of the cabin in the woods. I really liked Martin’s unexpected suicide. I don’t think they needed that G-man sub-plot, but it was overall pretty well-written.
Jake: 6 - It’s not necessarily a novel story, but it wasn’t trying to be. Its inspiration (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is obvious due to the “Pod” name.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 2 - Not good. The chemistry between the brother and sister pulled me out, some of the sets pulled me out, and the random double-take scenes and freeze-frame scenes sure as shit pulled me out. That scene in the basement was great and I was immersed as hell, but that scene can’t save the rest of the movie.
Jake: 3.5 - Small things like the title sequence, the weird dream sequence/flashback Martin has, Lyla as a character that existed in the film, the weird choices made in the sequence where Smith is introduced, and the POV shots all tore me out of things too much.
Jack: 4 - Martin was really unsettling every time he was on screen. The jump scares in the basement were damn effective jump scares. But overall, there wasn’t anything scary tying those scenes together.
Jake: 5 - I thought this movie did an excellent job of making use of tension and building an unsettling, dreadful atmosphere. The basement scene was the climax and was extremely effective. The problem is that the trailer showed it. It showed all of it. For how dependent the movie was on that particular scene, it was pretty egregious.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIAL LACK THEREOF)
Jack: 4, no you know what, it’s a 3 - This is a complicated one for me. The creature looks pretty good and I think will hold up well, but the blood when Martin cut his neck wasn’t well-executed and it really bugged me that there was no blood on Ed’s sleeves or coat. Also I think the set design is a part of this and a few of those pulled me out.
Jake: 4 - There wasn’t a ton going on with this movie. The creature wasn’t mindblowing but wasn’t terrible either. The neck scene was terrible. I really have very little to say with this one.
Jack: 5 - This movie was a fun watch. I know I talked a lot about things I didn’t enjoy, but overall this isn’t a move that I wouldn’t tell someone not to not see. Or . . . wait, shit. Got lost in negatives. I would tell people to watch this movie.
Jake: 5 - I enjoyed this one for what it was. I think it got weaker as it went but the overall experience wasn’t terrible. If it was any worse, I would have really disliked it, and if it was any better, I think I would have enjoyed it. It’s the Andy Dalton of horror movies. Right in the fuckin middle.