FrightFest 2015: Pod review

★★★☆☆
In the varied annals of horror cinema history, attics and basements operate as spaces ripe for psychoanalysis. When not serving as metaphors for ills of the human mind, they function as focal points for demonic manifestations, and sometimes portals to other dimensions. Kitchens aren't scary, right? Parlours are only creepy if the house is grandly built and furnished and there is a piano going all Jerry-Lee Lewis of its own accord. Dining areas, pantries and garden sheds are rarely, if at all, used to stage sequences drenched in supernatural terror. It Came from the Pantry! (an invented title, admittedly) doesn't boast the same attention-grabbing promise as Cellar Dweller (1988) or The Attic (2007).

Attics and basements, as above so below, have endured as everyday dark places that can easily ignite our imaginations with frightening possibilities. Mickey Keating's Pod (2015) initially opts for the Freudian metaphor – the basement stands for the repressed, troubled mind and the locked door is the mental block waiting to be freed. The narrative hangs on a dual-realities hook (let's call it 'Schrödinger's Monster') and it's eerie and involving … until it isn't. The third act munsons – there is no better word for it (thanks, 1996's Kingpin) – a lot of the excellent build-up. Like the Evil Dead remake and 2012's Resolution, Keating's sci-fi horror thriller is centred on that American psychotherapy favourite, the staged intervention. Two deeply concerned siblings take it upon themselves to save an older brother from himself.

Brian Morvant is very good as paranoid schizophrenic, Martin, a guy who finds a quiet place in the country to go nuts. He rants and raves in a trashed lakeside family cottage about aliens and government cover-ups. Only, Ed (Dean Cates) and Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) - the pair sharing a relationship seemingly informed by the Johnny-and-Barbara dynamic of The Night of the Living Dead (1968) - understand it as another psychotic episode and the outré ramblings of a guy who stopped taking his meds. Martin informs his brother and sister that he captured a 'pod' (as he identifies them) and has locked the thing up in the basement. It's in there and it mustn't be let out at any cost.

Ed and Lyla's dilemma becomes: do they open the door or not? Fair play to Keating for wringing every ounce of claustrophobia from the set-up, and the depiction of mental disintegration is surprisingly poignant and well played, too. A poor third act, though, means that Pod is disjointed and falls down like a poorly built house. Not even the late but welcome appearance of actor and producer, Larry Fessenden, as a government spook, can save the day. It's a shame because the performances, the stylish direction, and what is hands down the best credits sequence since Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void (2010), are knocked off their axis somewhat.

Film4 FrightFest 2015 runs from 27-31 August. Programming, ticket details and all information can be found at www.frightfest.co.uk. You can keep up with our coverage here.

Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn

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