Filmmakers in the horror genre often place socio-political commentary in their movies, and usually, it works way better that way as opposed to having addressed it directly in a didactic drama. The new movie Pollen by writer-director D.W. Medoff is an interesting indie horror film that tries to tackle sensitive issues such as sexual assault, mental health, toxic work culture, and the overall alienation of young individuals using the already established intriguing tropes of the mystery and horror genres.
Borrowing from Polanski’s 1965 classic Repulsion but giving it a botanical twist, Pollen keeps the viewers engaged throughout its one-and-a-half-hour runtime. Hera, a young adult who lives alone in a cabin-like house near the woods and works in a competitive finance company, gets sexually assaulted by the finance lead, and her life from then on becomes a series of traumatic events, worsened by her fixation on a plant that was gifted to her by her abuser.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Pollen’?
A young woman is seen hanging by her neck in the woods with her face totally covered with yellow pollen while her worried mother calls her to know her whereabouts. We are sucked into the story immediately and introduced to Hera, a charming and sweet young adult fresh out of college who has big ambitions to make it to the top of the firm she has joined recently. She walks with spring in her steps, wearing a confident smile, and sets up her desk, ready to face the challenges head-on. Her focus doesn’t dwindle as she hastily hangs up on her sister, Demi, who asks her to babysit her daughter, Corey. Her co-workers seem to be in their own worlds, while she seems disinterested in engaging in loose talk. They seem a little too frank and probably had an inkling that Zachary would ask Hera out.
Zachary Osman was the superstar of the company. He had just made a fortune of ten million dollars for the company. He had the swag, the assertiveness, and the charisma of a celebrity. Zachary, known as Zach in the office, rings a bell (a company ritual before announcing good news) to announce the staggering profit. Everybody erupts in applause, and Hera, of course, is delighted by his achievements. When Zach makes a pass at her, she doesn’t decline, and they go on a date.
What Happened After The Date?
Zach and Hera drive back to her house, and chilling events follow once Zach gifts her a plant. Zach asks Hera to invite him in. Hera is clear in her remarks. Never once did she obfuscate her intentions, but Zach smooth-talks his way in, not respecting Hera’s request to let the night end there. He essentially forced his way in and raped Hera. Hera is left a little confused rather than shocked or angry. Here was a guy who was reeling in millions and who had the respect of all his subordinates. How could such a man sexually assault her? Where did it go wrong? She was clear in her answer, wasn’t she? She clearly said “no” loud and clear when he asked her to let him come inside her house, and yet he kissed her against her will, and with the plant in her hand, she just froze, and he pushed her into the house, unlocking the front door himself. Zach leaves, and Hera is left with these confusing questions in her mind. She takes a shower, and while her mind isn’t ready to pinpoint the heinousness of the incident and call it by its name, her body is repulsed, wanting to be cleansed of the unwanted encounter. To make matters worse, she could end up pregnant.
The event splits Hera’s psyche. She looks at the plant gifted to her by Zachary and starts to form a strange connection with it. Even after a distressing encounter with him, she wants to impress him by wearing nice clothes for him, while he only wants to satiate his intimate urges. She tries to calmly talk about the ‘incident” but is met with only disdain. The other elements of the office don’t work well in her favor either. There is her senior manager, Lori, who seems as if she has a prejudice against Hera because of how well she dresses or how diligently she works. Apart from Lori, the two female peers, Vicky and Claire, make working in the office feel like being in a gossip gang, talking all sorts of nonsense about people’s private business. Amidst all this, Zach finally comes to talk to Hera, but it is only to ensure that she takes the morning-after pill. Feeling completely alone, confused, and devoid of any support, she takes the pill. The stressful days only get worse.
Her relationship with the plant starts to get more intense. The yellow pollen sticks to her palms, and she starts to sneeze yellow mucus out of her nose every time she gets toyed around in the office by Zach or Vicky. She is disturbed by all of it but cannot figure it out. Strange sightings of a tree-shaped demon get seared into her mind. Nightmares about it soon followed. One would think she would get some respite after getting visited by her elder sister Demi and her daughter Corey, but sadly, she didn’t. Demi gets a little concerned seeing Hera live such a messy existence, seeing the increasing cobwebs and the unhealthy diet, but sweeps it under the rug owing to Hera’s age and her own notion about how youngsters generally behave. When Demi was leaving for her date, there arose a moment between the two sisters where Hera could finally confront what happened to her, but all she managed to blurt out was that she was disturbed because Zach didn’t show her the affection he used to. She had probably grown opaque to her own true feelings and might actually have thought that Zach not liking her was the reason behind her current state.
The spring in her step had long left her body. She wears somber clothes to the office now and starts to feel more alienated after finding out that Zach has moved on from her to Vicky. At this point, Hera is attached to the plant like never before. She always carried it with her wherever she went, and the yellow pollen followed her like a ghost. She starts talking to the plant, feeding it, and bonding with it, naming it Grace. In a harrowing moment, she regurgitates a flower as colorful as the one that was on her plant. The line in her mind between reality and hallucination are blurred to a horrific extent. She starts having nightmares about being raped by the tree demon.
Does Hera Seek Help?
Hera is too overwhelmed to seek any help. Lonely at home, dealing with the turbulent emotions all by herself, she works hard at the office but meets a dead end at every turn. A seemingly good guy, Gabe, discourages her from going to the HR department to tell them about what happened with Zach. Hera keeps her job afloat somehow, but it all comes crashing down when she sees Vicky having the exact same plant by her desk. A deranged Hera destroys Vicky’s plant and stabs Vicky with a pen in her leg when she comes in to harm Hera’s plant. The whole office is witness to this violence, and Hera is let go of her job, but not before Gabe makes a pass at her.
Hera is left with nothing. No friends, no job, no more willpower to fight, and no grip on reality. All she has now is the plant. With no one in the house to stop her, she starts to live as if she were a plant herself. From filling her tub with mud and bathing in it to covering herself with bushes and dirt, she slowly starts moving toward complete madness. Her spiral into insanity is broken by Demi when she washes Hera up and tries to comfort her, but when Corey accidentally breaks the planter, Hera slaps her and then goes completely berserk. She breaks into Zach’s company, asking Zach to help save “their” plant, Grace, signifying that she saw it as their baby. After getting absolutely no help at work, she is finally able to tell her sister about the incident with Zach. Ultimately, Hera is unable to save Grace and buries the plant in her garden, symbolizing the abortion. The tree demon also gets pacified after this act, now following Hera calmly. With nothing to live for, Hera decides to slit her wrists using the sharp piece of the broken planter but is distracted by a surprise visit by Zach.
‘Pollen’ Ending Explained – What Happened Between Hera And Zach?
Zach shows up in his haughty persona and tries to make physical advances again. Hera had come into the office shouting his name, which might have made him believe that she needed him in her life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hera looks him in the eye and finally confronts him, telling him he raped her that night after their first date. When Zach compels her to drop that narrative, questioning her sanity and making fun of her ability to even take care of a plant, Hera takes the broken piece of the planter and stabs him to death. After a few days, she gets visited by Demi and Corey, and Hera apologizes to Corey for hitting her and then proceeds to show them a plant blooming from the spot where she had buried Zach. In the end, the three female figures in the film witness the monster once again standing in front of them. However, this time they are not scared of its presence, therefore symbolizing the fact that, through this journey, they have found the strength to fight the demons roaming in the outside world.
Pollen hence becomes an allegory for assault, be it physical or mental, and the consequent feminine wrath. In a world where there is no respect placed on emotional connection, and masculinity becomes a force of only carnal desires, even going to the extent of assault to satiate itself, the film quite imaginatively portrays the culture’s lack of sensitivity towards understanding the feminine psyche. On another level, the film becomes a scathing commentary on the overwhelmingly toxic workplaces with little to no mechanisms of stopping predatory behavior. The tree demons roam around freely to haunt the nightmares of the next victim. Some, like Hera, survive, while others succumb to the pollen that engulfs their entire existence in the form of trauma and shame.
Pollen is a 2023 horror thriller film directed by D.W. Medoff.