Fantastic Fest Review: Thai Film The Pool is About a Guy Stuck in a Pool. What More Do You Need?
When I see a kid in a cast or with a really impressive scab, I always ask what happened because it’s going to be a great story. Kids love to tell the stories of their ghastly injuries. It is always the final punctuation of some fantastic misadventure where they were testing life’s boundaries. They jumped from the swing when they were way too high, or they built the gnarliest bike ramp, or, if you’re lucky, it’s a “you should see the other guy” situation. If I see an adult with a sling or bandages I never ask what happened, ever. Because it’s impolite and they don’t want to tell you for the following reasons;
It’s boring and a non-event like a stress fracture or a biopsy of melanoma.
It’s sad like a terminal illness or violence
it’s embarrassing and they should have known better.
I couldn’t care less about the first two categories, no one wants to chit chat about the dull or depressing, but that third category intrigues me to no end. That maturation sweet spot between too young to die and too old screw up that badly is just… delicious.
Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), for example, should have totally known better. He was relaxing on a rubber raft and celebrating a hard day’s work when his buddy, with rolling luggage in tow, tells him he’s set the pool to drain and he’ll see him in a few weeks. If Day was being responsible, he would have just floated his butt poolside but he thought he could chill just a little longer. It’s hard enough to find a few minutes of pure bliss when you’re struggling to make ends meet as a production assistant/dog trainer while your privileged, hot girlfriend, Koi (Ratnamon Ratchiratham) is pressuring you to have a baby. He probably felt entitled to a moment of solitude to reflect, but when a catnap overtakes him he ends up with way more time to think that he bargained for…
BECAUSE ALL OF THE WATER DRAINS AND HE’S TRAPPED IN THE POOL FOR DAAAAAAAYS.
Isn’t that just the best premise for a movie ever? And I didn’t even spoil the alligator for you. (Oops.) Thai writer/director Ping Lumpraploeng was inarguably on to something when he conjured up his concept for The Pool. Escalation is the name of the game and we play along with Day who goes from “Aw, shucks” to “oh, fuck.” And it is not like he’s just languishing away in the deep end doing nothing. Turns out the kind of person who gets himself stranded on a rooftop pool is capable of all manner of terrible ideas. He’s like the MacGyver of being stuck in a pool if none of MacGyver’s ideas worked and always left him a little more injured than before.
It is a tense watch from the time Day wakes from his snooze surrounded by just a few feet of water and the edge of the pool just out of reach to the very end (spoilers, the movie stops eventually), but Lumpraploeng did one thing that undermined the sense of dread. It’s being used so frequently in storytelling and I think that it has become cliche, and it’s a device that intended to ratchet up anticipation, but savvy audiences will use to manage expectations. It is the use of the flash forward to the climax of the film so we can see just how bad things are going to get, and then have text that says something to the effect of “Six Days Earlier.” In that flash forward, Day has distinct injuries and is in a specific form of peril which I found myself using as a metric for doling out my concern. I could predict how things were going to turn out based on what hasn’t happened yet, which is less fun than feeling that anything can happen.
The Pool does have some specific markers that will remind you that it is a low budget independent film. It’s a small cast, shot in a single location, but that is in service to the plot. The CG alligator is pretty janky at times, and the film is doing some hard shilling. There is some very transparent product placement for Pizza Hut pizza - I’ve never seen someone so stoked to eat three day old pizza in my life - and there is a propaganda tinged anti-abortion message that seems to be shoehorned into the plot. But don’t let these things deter you from seeing the movie. The alligator looks like garbage but the injuries and danger feel urgent, and the message of “eat pizza and choose life” is not what you’re watching the movie for. You’re watching to see if Day gets out of the damn pool.
Are you not dying to experience The Pool? Where did I lose you? Was it the premise that someone could get themselves stuck in a pool with no shallow end or ladder? Is it that there were no precautionary systems in place for just such a thing to happen? Well, maybe whoever built this pool did it under the presumption that no one would be stupid enough to stay in the pool while it was draining. Most things are built in good faith that adults will not accidentally find a way to kill themselves or others with it. The evidence is everywhere. Take a look at the signage. We’ve all seen it or scoffed at it - “Don’t use this blow-dryer in the shower,” “Don’t wait until the last second to step off the escalator,” “Don’t use the hottub if you currently have diarrhea.” Those signs are there because there was an electrocuted, maimed, diarrhea riddled corpse that predicated that cautionary sign. We’d like to think it was a real dumb-dumb, but odds are it was someone like us who committed the sin of straight up not thinking things through or not paying attention. We are all Day - we’ve just lucked out thus far.