James Clay // Film Critic
AUSTIN – THE POOL is not necessarily a difficult movie to describe. It’s actually kind of astounding that it even exists. This isn’t merely a movie about a dog trainer who falls asleep in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, only to wake up to it being completely drained without a way out and only a gator and his chained up dog to keep him company.
The lucky few who were able to bask in the aquatic glory of director Ping Lumpraploeng’s incredibly mean-spirited, knuckle-clinching piece of absurdism changed inside of that theater. There’s life before THE POOL, and there’s life after its final credits. It’s like crossing over into another dimension of filmmaking that’s earnest as it is ridiculous. To say this piece of Thai cinema is hyperbolic would be an understatement.
To even keep up with its sheer force of energy is exhausting. And for some inexplicable reason, this movie is sponsored by Pizza Hut. If this is any indication of the types of films the Italian fast-food magnet is interested in producing, they need to come stateside and give Syfy originals a run for their money.
The story begins with a dog trainer named Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan) and his dog, Lucky, who are working an underwater commercial shoot. After Lucky masters his jump, it’s time to celebrate by relaxing in the 25-foot deep pool and catch some rays and daydream. All is well in Day’s world, for the most part, except that he worries about financial struggles and providing monetary support for his pregnant girlfriend, Koi (Ratnamon Ratchiratham). For a movie this ridiculous, Lumpraploeng is awfully interested in boasting an inexplicable pro-life message.
After Day’s buddy drains the pool, he decidedly goes right back to sleep and wakes up to an absolute nightmare of rapidly draining water and he’s running out of options to make an escape. Keep in mind, his dog is chained up the entire film, barking like crazy and watching his owner make one desperate attempt for safety after another. The levels of cruelty inflicted upon Day are straight-up baffling. The film is so detached from any sort of logic or reality that it makes every mistake he makes that much more entertaining.
For Americans, to watch this film, it seems like an other-worldly experience. The cinematic language is similar to summer’s release of CRAWL, but the cultural nuances may be baffling to Western eyes.
Lumpraploeng continues to put obstacles in the way of his main character, from getting objects out of a sleeping gator’s mouth, to commandeering gator eggs in a desperate attempt to have a morsel to eat. His decision-making becomes increasingly bad as mental fatigue takes hold, and it’s only the audience who benefits from the continuous string of ludicrous decisions made along the way. It’s simultaneously a comedy of errors and a succession of events of awful timing for our main character, but he persists over seven days in a fight for survival. This is the kind of popcorn thriller that genre fans will crave if they can ever get their peepers on this treasure.
Wongpuapan’s stoned-face focus is a blast to watch unfold. The constant disappointment on the actor’s face is tailored for our amusement, and for the sadistic nature of the man behind the camera. At only 91 minutes, the film ratchets up the tension at each opportunity. I strangely found myself empathizing with Day and his fears of providing for a family.
THE POOL never bats an eye at what it asks the audience to accept as a proper way to make a movie. And to think that somewhere a group of creatives got in a room together and felt that it would be a good idea to make this movie. It’s crazy, hilarious, and a movie that I feel truly fortunate to have seen with a crowd. You may have to do some digging to find out how to get your hands on this movie stateside (legal measures only, please), but it’s such a joy-filled experience that the search will be well worth the effort.
Grade: ? (Yes, that’s intentional.)
THE POOL screened at Fantastic Fest. A release date is TBA.