Pod film review: Cabin in the woods horror with a twist

Something’s in the basement in Mickey Keating’s excellent indie horror Pod, seen at FrightFest

There’s a reason why filmmakers keep going back to the cabin in the woods (beyond the obvious cost-effectiveness, of course). If you get it right, the results can be spectacular. Mickey Keating’s Pod takes a familiar set-up and spins a grisly, highly entertaining twist on the formula, proving that there’s a lot of life in the old log cabin yet.

Ed (Dean Cates) arrives at his sister Lyla’s (Lauren Ashley Carter) house with some bad news. Their brother, returned veteran Martin (Brian Morvant) is up at the family cabin and left a pretty terrifying voicemail. From the sounds of it, Martin’s lost it again and might need to go back to the hospital before he hurts himself. Lyla reluctantly agrees to join him on this rushed intervention, and when they get there it definitely looks like Martin has indeed gone off the rails. However, when he shows up, he’s making a pretty convincing argument…

Pod isn’t interested in easy answers, rather the fear that comes with having to ask the questions. After a quick scene-setting prologue, Keating introduces us to the two characters who will be attempting to bring their brother back to the land of the sane, and it’s clear that neither of them are exactly the paragons of virtue. If Lyla’s not yet an alcoholic, she’s definitely on her way, and Ed is controlling and neurotic. It’s easy to see why Martin doesn’t exactly take their attempt at an intervention seriously, even as he begins to spin a tale about government experiments on veterans and throwing the word “Pod” around.

With an incredibly lean 76 minutes running time, Keating keeps things moving quickly and the three leads acquit themselves very well, creating a strong an convincing family dynamic. Morvant manages to keep Martin sympathetic even during his most violent outbursts, Cates is very watchable as Ed becomes increasingly wired and unpredictable, and Carter continues to prove that she’s a talent to watch after very strong performances in The Woman and Jug Face.

When the time comes for Keating to answer the question of Martin’s sanity and why he’s so desperate to keep his family out of the basement, the film delivers a strong finale that is scary, shocking and satisfying. Pod may not break the rules of the cabin in the woods genre completely, but it’s a smart, gripping chiller that delivers. Seek it out.

Pod will be available exclusively through Alarm Pictures on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Sony/PlayStation, Microsoft/Xbox. This review is an extension of our Film4 FrightFest coverage. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.