Pollen (2023) Horror Movie Review – Monster Movie With a Message
After a senior coworker assaults a bright-eyed young woman, her dream job becomes a living nightmare as she tries to keep her career together while being tormented at work, at home, and in her dreams by a mysterious tree monster.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are going to be reviewing D.W. Medoff’s monster horror movie Pollen from 2023. This one is currently showing on Tubi for free but I think it has appeared in other places before making its way to Tubi. It certainly doesn’t feel like your typical low budget Tubi horror fare. In fact, there is something of a upper echelon of indie horror feel to Pollen.
Ancient mythology meets the very real world problems of misogyny, sexual assault and work place harassment. In this psychological horror that is thought provoking but, perhaps, not quite as smart as it thinks it is. Pollen is a movie that does a few things right but also a fair few things wrong. Including an ending that descends into farce and undermines the movie’s important message. Is it worth a watch? Let’s take a look.
After being sexually assaulted by a co-worker. Young, ambitious, woman Hera (Ava Rose Kinard) chokes down the reality that she was raped and instead throws herself into her work. The more she suppresses the truth, the more she is haunted by a horrifying figure in the shape of a tree. While attempting to navigate the complex landscape of her new workplace. Hera is exposed to bullying, harassment and the realities of being a young woman in a world dominated by men. Leading her deeper and deeper into a pit of despair that will force her to confront the demons that stalk her.
When I see the word pollen, I instantly think about antihistamines. It’s time to grab a tablet before starting the day to avoid spending the entire time sneezing. I mean, let’s be real – hay-fever sucks. Pollen, in the case of the movie we are looking at today. Represents one of a few nature themed ideas that dominate Medoff’s metaphor heavy first feature length horror. A woman sneezes pollen for reasons that are rarely elaborated on. She is haunted by a tree that is desperate to force her to confront a harrowing experience. And she owns a plant that represents the one lingering attempt to avoid addressing the trauma directly. Pollen is a movie that brings to mind the phrase “close but no cigar”.
More Metaphorical Monster Madness
Metaphorical monsters are all the rage in horror. Whereas it is probably fair to say that the trend has died off a little as of late. You still see one or two of these movies popping up each year. The vast majority take a real world situation that haunts a character and turns it into a seemingly real and physical monster. Pollen is no different. Whereas the movie’s important message about misogyny, the toxicity of male dominated society and the culture of covering each others backs is very relevant. The ham fisted attempt at delivering this message in a manner which will please horror fans feels a bit weak and fairly poorly thought out.
There is very little new here and Pollen left me with a distinct feeling of a director keen to pay homage to his favourite movies. Change the subject, move a few things around, put together a slightly more dramatic ending. It’s still the same old metaphorical monster movie whichever way you slice it. Medoff, despite being a clearly competent film maker, offers little in the way of original ideas to this tried and tested formula. This is the same thing we have seen dozens of times before but with a slightly different coat of paint. That’s not to say that Pollen is a bad movie because it isn’t. It is just very familiar and very middle of the road.
An Important Message
There is an important message at the core of Pollen. One that is, likely, all too familiar to women in the workplace. A message about rampant sexual assault. Power being used as a bargaining chip. Lack of male accountability in the work force. A culture of silencing women who speak up. And the toxicity between female workers pitted against each other by a patriarchal society keen to keep men at the top of the food chain. It’s as relevant a message now as it has ever been. And the presentation of men covering up the crimes of other men is something that absolutely should be talked about.
Medoff’s writing, however, feels lacking and some of the ways in which he presents the events that take place can only be described as clumsy. Speaking to my fiancee about the movie. She strongly felt that some of the issues here were presented in a way that lacked female experience. I really feel as though Medoff needed to offer a female voice on this subject. Not the voice of a man attempting to relate to a woman’s experience.
Sure, us men absolutely have to speak on this subject. But it is even more important for men in a position of power to offer a platform for women to speak on it. Medoff had that opportunity and did not do it. Leading to some writing that could be best described as glib and lacking in the nuance that would come from actual experience with the situation.
There was a missed opportunity to give a woman a chance to talk here and that is a shame. The more I review horror movies the more I am surprised at just how few are written or directed by women. When a man chooses to write a movie about a deeply intimate female specific issue rather than to hire a female writer, however. It’s really not that much of a surprise as most movie making studios are predominantly male.
All Too Familiar
It would be remiss of me to not mention The Babadook when talking about Pollen. After all, the inspirations here are very clear. Natalie Erika James’ Relic also comes to mind almost immediately when watching Pollen. As does the far superior Saint Maud. From a horror movie perspective. Pollen plays out in a way that can only be described as a little bit yawn inducing. We have reviewed a whole bevy of horror movies that feature allegorical monsters designed to represent the everyday traumas of real life. It is just getting a little bit old and worn out. The more of these movies I watch the more obvious it is that the well has run dry. There are no more new ideas and these movies are all just copying each other now.
Much like the aforementioned Relic. Pollen lacks in nuance of presentation. It’s all so obvious and on the nose. It is one of those movies that constantly makes you think “Yeah, we get it!”. There is not enough depth to the writing and the metaphors can feel both clumsy and a bit too apparent. It never really prompts genuine moments of thought. But it does prompt a few eye rolls for anyone tired of this type of stuff.
I think Pollen’s ending is ridiculous, as well. It feels like it hits a natural point of conclusion only for things to suddenly become extra silly. Perhaps due to Medoff feeling like he needed a legitimately horror style ending. I can’t help but feel that people are sticking metaphorical monsters in drama movies purely because they know their movies would fail as plain drama. Tack on a few scares and a silly ending. Sell it to a horror audience, they are easy to please. For an audience that craves more of the same, however, Pollen does have a few things to offer.
Not a Bad Movie
Despite my complaints, Pollen is a pretty watchable movie. Ava Rose Kinard delivers an occasionally mixed performance but when she is good she is very good. I loved her nervous delivery and she absolutely demands that you care about her character. If some of the writing was a little better, she would be a truly memorable horror movie protagonist. It’s hard to wonder how someone like her ended up in the industry she is in, though.
The story is fairly interesting from a human drama perspective. I genuinely enjoyed watching Hera’s attempts to navigate her toxic workplace and there are some legitimately hilarious moments. I can’t help but feel as though Medoff was somewhat influenced by Lucky McKee’s May as Pollen hits on some humour in a very similar manner. The important message at the core of the movie definitely deserves mention, of course.
Some of the horror moments are fairly effective. With the tree monster looking decent for what is, probably, little more than a rubber suit. Medoff tries to go for a few Babadook-esque moments of terror here and there that do occasionally pay off. The side story with Hera’s niece was an interesting one and hints at how widespread of an issue the subject matter at hand really is. And the film, generally, looks pretty nice. Being nicely shot for the most part and having a few scenes that look particularly fantastic. Medoff has potential as a director.
Final Thoughts and Score
For me, Pollen is an example of a movie that almost works but doesn’t quite get there. This is a movie with a really important message. One that, unfortunately, some are going to roll their eyes at. It is heavy on the metaphor and the writing can feel glib at times. Perhaps needing the influence of someone a little more connected to the subject matter to drag a more nuanced story out of the setup. But it can also be fairly effective.
I enjoyed Ava Kinard’s performance as Hera and the story is engaging for some of its length. It’s just a bit too obvious, though. Pollen is not as smart as it thinks it is. When combined with some of the movie’s other issues like an awful ending, some real dull moments and silly dialogue. It’s a bit of an awkward recommend. If you are looking for yet another Babadook style movie, give it a shot. If you are completely sick of metaphor heavy horror, you won’t find much to like here.
Trailer: Pollen (2023)
|Release Date:||6th June 2023|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Thriller|
|Movie Length:||86 Min|
|Starring:||Ava Rose Kinard, Tyler Buckingham, Leanna Adams|
|Directed By:||D.W. Medoff|
|Written By:||D.W. Medoff|
|Produced By:||Stephen Beehler|
|Parental Guidance:||Violence, Sexual Assault, Language, Drug Use|