There’s a batsqueak of Tracy Letts’ psychological thriller Bug (powerfully filmed by William Friedkin in 2006) about Pod, writer-director Mickey Keating’s follow-up to Ultra Violence (2011) and Ritual (2013). Martin (Brian Morvant), a mentally disturbed ex-soldier with a history of violent behaviour, holes himself up at his family’s remote lake house in “middle of nowhere, Maine”, raving about having trapped a creature (the eponymous ‘pod’) in the basement. Concerned for his sanity, and his safety, Martin’s brother, Ed (Dean Cates), persuades their sister Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) to brave the snowy wilderness in an effort to convince him his delusions are, well, just that. And so it’s off to the old “cabin in the woods” (mercifully, not with “found footage” cameras in tow), where Ed and Lyla find Martin pretty far gone in his paranoid state, waving a gun and spouting conspiracy theories about military experiments.
As is often the case with psychological thrillers that hinge on an unhinged character, Pod asks us to wonder if Martin’s delusions are real or imagined, and Keating effectively guides us along the tightrope towards the reveal. Carter, so memorable in The Woman and The Pit/Jug Face, is her usual compelling presence, establishing a convincing sibling relationship with Cates before they arrive at the cabin and the shit really hits the fan. With his third feature, Keating is really coming into his own as a filmmaker, effectively building suspense through the film’s first and second acts, and if Act III feels rushed, it’s difficult to know whether a lack of ideas or money is to blame.
While Pod sometimes feels like “Bug Lite” – look, seriously, if you haven’t seen Bug, you really have to watch it tonight – it’s an impressively short, sharp shock that proves, yet again, that ideas don’t have to be original to be effective. Above all, it makes me want to see more of Keating, Carter and Cates. Pod 2, anyone?