Fantastic Fest Review: THE POOL Is A Game Of Implausible And Hilarious Cruelty

Just wait until this one goes right off the deep end.

The Pool is the kind of single location thriller that we all know and love where the protagonist is trapped in an aquatic scenario with an animal… except now the water has been removed from the equation. Taking place entirely within the confines of a drained, six-meter deep, industrial-size pool system, The Pool pits a man against a crocodile that has also fallen into the pit, evoking what feels like a cross between Open Water and Crawl, though Crawl was admittedly made after this Thai take on the subgenre. (And yes, Crawl had alligators, pedants.) The conceptual underpinning alone would be worth the novelty of viewing this film, but The Pool is something special: it is one of the most mean-spirited films this critic has ever seen, to the point where it becomes farcical and downright hilarious.

The set-up shows how our main character, Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), came to be in this scenario, as he worked on a film shoot at the pool and fell asleep on an inflatable raft as his friend started the drainage system on his way out. With no phone, no way to climb out the steep walls, and only his dog chained up on the surface, Day doesn’t have much of a choice but to wait for rescue while the pool continues to drain. His girlfriend, Koy (Ratnamon Ratchiratham), does arrive to investigate, only to fall into the pool herself and suffer a head injury, leaving them both stranded and only Koy with any agency to get them out. And then, literally as Day utters the line that things couldn’t get any worse, a crocodile stumbles into the now-empty pool.

In terms of character and narrative, The Pool has some odd issues that mostly stem from its perception of women. Koy isn’t so much a character as a living complication and plot device, alternately a damsel in distress and a voice of empathy and encouragement for Day. Day, meanwhile, would have been just fine as a pure survivalist character – he doesn’t need any motivation beyond him and Koy needing to be anywhere but at the bottom of a god damn pool – but his arc is built around the realization that he shouldn’t ask Koy to illegally abort her pregnancy. It’s a really bizarre plotline to include, as it has absolutely nothing to do with their situation, adds nothing to the film’s themes of survival and perseverance, is pretty much dropped halfway through the film, and only further treats Koy as a device for Day’s semblance of growth. In other words, you aren’t going to love this film for its story.

However, if you’re someone with a penchant for heightening absurdity, that lack of human depth in these characters can make the experience of watching The Pool comic gold, but only if you’re ready for some astonishing acts of cruelty. Just about everything that can go wrong will go wrong in Day’s attempts to escape the pool, and where another film would be content with a few complicating factors, like Day’s lack of necessarily insulin shots or the drainage system under the pool being guarded as the crocodile’s territory, The Pool just keeps getting more and more ridiculous in how it tempts Day and Koy with opportunities for escape and whisks them right back away, often leaving the couple more injured and worse off despite their apparently superhuman resilience. It’s like the bleakest collection of Looney Tunes gags ever realized in live action, and while it’s unclear whether the film expects you to marvel at the tragedy or is in on the joke, somehow, even when you see a bitter twist of fate in the seconds before it happens, the rapid succession with which Day and Koy take their licks and the sheer number of ways in which they are brutalized is sickly inventive and darkly hilarious.

Obviously, this kind of nihilistic embrace of the glee in others’ suffering is not going to be in all tastes, and it’s particularly egregious in how not even Day’s dog is off limits from the plot’s devious machinations. I’ve left a lot of the details of Day’s and Koy’s misadventures with their scaly poolmate purposely vague to keep the surprises fresh, but it’s fair to say that if there’s any chance of hope in a given moment, it’s going to be snatched away, and whether you find that joyful or monstrous is going depend entirely on you. But if you can roll with the absurd surreality, The Pool is a blast, particularly with a crowd of like-minded sickos.