There’s a lot to be said for a good, high-concept story that takes a single idea and pushes it to the limit. Sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention and inspired writing wrings the maximum potential from limited means. Sometimes, however, a filmmaker will embrace the absurd and push for sheer gonzo entertainment. This is the case with The Pool, an ecstatically ludicrous creature-feature that traps a young couple in an empty swimming pool with a crocodile, and then torments them for 90 minutes. It’s not big. It’s not clever. But it’s a hell of a lot of dumb, mean-spirited fun.
After completing a high-end advertising shoot in an Olympic-scale swimming pool, dog trainer Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan) falls asleep on a lilo. Awaking hours he finds the pool has drained and he is trapped, with no one to help except his Old English Sheepdog, Lucky, who is chained up at the pool’s edge. His girlfriend Koy (Ratnamon Ratchiratham) later discovers him but falls in, as does an escaped crocodile. Over six days, the pair must try to escape, while avoiding becoming a meal for the reptile.
Poor Day is tormented throughout in a series of escalating ordeals that grow ever more melodramatic and hilarious. Pizza guy turns up? Day’s wallet chain is stuck underwater in the pool’s hatch. Need some duct tape to bandage Koy’s wound? It’s in the crocodile’s mouth. Some fencing blows into the pool offering a way out? It’s barbed wire. Oh, and he’s diabetic. Lumpraploeng keeps offering potential carrots to his desperate lead while beating him with the stick. It comes across like a Luis Buñuel comedy without the class consciousness. Wongpuapan gamely gets his teeth into the lunacy until you expect him to chew his way out of the pool.
The great strength of The Pool is discovering just what joyfully sadistic hoops Lumpraploeng is going to make his beleaguered Job figure jump through next. In a movie that thrives on constant incredulity, kicking off proceedings in media res is therefore an error. While it hurls the viewer straight into the action as Ms. Croc tries to chow down on Day’s broken leg, to hold back the crocodile as a bonkers surprise would have been delightful. It also highlights the limitations of its CGI work straight off the bat, giving the impression that it’s a far more amateurish, Asylum-level endeavour than it really is. This is a shame as The Pool is actually rather a well-made film, with some inventive camera work maximising the limited space and making it far more cinematic than it could have been.
One further idiosyncrasy of an already eccentric film is the weirdly pro-life subtext running below its tiled surface. We discover Koy is pregnant and that Day was of the opinion that an abortion would be the best move, despite it being illegal in Thailand (and, less tangibly, a sin according to a friend). This suggests that his hitherto aquatic purgatory is punishment for his intentions (or possibly for tangentially working in advertising – arguably the greater evil). This relegates poor Koy to not just a standard damsel in distress, but merely a vessel for Day’s brutal karmic kicking. Throw in some clumsy symbolism as the pair eat the crocodile’s freshly laid eggs and you’ve got a very odd theme for a simple survival thriller. Again though, this arguably adds to the fun.
The Pool could well be the perfect beer-and-pizza movie. It’s not a good film per se, but neither is it so bad it’s good. It’s ridiculous by design and leans into its limitations, with many of its flaws add to the fun. For example, the poor CGI that lacks any convincing heft when it has to interact with anything human, Day’s diabetic symptoms coming and going as the plot dictates, and the apparently fluctuating weight of the pool’s manhole cover. Be warned, however, as the mean streak extends beyond tormenting its human characters, which could tip things too far for some.
Available to stream on Shudder now