By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Theeradej Wongpuapan, Ratnamon Ratchiratham
Directed by Ping Lumpraploeng
Written by Ping Lumpraploeng
There’s something about the stuck-in-one-place subgenre that just satisfies unlike anything else. A simple formula with endless potential variations, films like Adam Green’s Frozen (trapped on a ski-lift), Buried (confined in a coffin), or Devil (stuck in an elevator) all make fine use of their single location, but add a little aquatic terror into the mix (like 47 Meters Down, The Shallows, or last year’s Crawl) and you’ve got the tasty cinematic equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter. Or, in the case of THE POOL…pineapple and pizza. Just released on Shudder, Thai writer/director Ping Lumpraloeng’s man-versus-beast romp is a worthy addition to the single location stable and serves up the best of what the small genre has to offer: namely a killer hook, absurd action, and weapons-grade sentimentality that make for a deliriously entertaining crowd-pleaser.
Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), the insecure art director of a commercial production company, is left alone to clean up after a shoot in an abandoned, competitive diving pool. Tired from working overnight and stressed out by his girlfriend Koi (Ratnamon Ratchiratham) and her potential pregnancy, Day lounges and eventually falls asleep on an inflatable raft. When he wakes up, he discovers that the water has drained to the point that he cannot climb out of the pool. Unable to reach his cell phone (or much-needed insulin), he screams for help, but the only answer comes in the form of a hungry crocodile recently escaped from a nearby reptile farm.
Lumpraploeng proves that all it takes is an empty pool, a CGI gator, and a crucial drain pipe to create entertainment gold. This isn’t to say, however, that there’s no technical skill on display here. On the contrary, THE POOL features moments of stylization that come off goofier than was likely intended, but the film is thoughtfully lensed and the dirty white backdrop of the titular man made pond’s surface makes for some instantly indelible imagery. Of course, the central scaled beast isn’t the best effect you’ll ever see, but the good folks at Riff and Alternate Studios imbue the computer generated creature with enough character that its visual shortcomings ultimately don’t matter. The lithe and handsome Wongpuapan is an intensely relatable leading man and he goes above and beyond in his dedication to the often ridiculous material. Some viewers may grow tired of the near constant setbacks that plague him, but these cruel twists of fate take on an almost cosmic absurdity that should inspire laughs (and groans that inspire laughs) in any group of viewers. The film took home a Special Mention at last year’s Fantastic Fest as the “Most Fun Movie To See With An Audience,” and though it may be hard to foresee a collective experience of watching THE POOL at this time, the film practically begs for group participation.
A high-concept joyride that hits you in the pleasure receptors and the heart, THE POOL is among the most purely entertaining recent additions to the stuck-in-one-place subgenre. Writer/director Ping Lumpraploeng gives his audience a likable, average protagonist who faces incalculable odds, and comes out a better, more resilient person on the other side. Appropriately for a film sponsored by Pizza Hut (yes, really), Lumpraploeng’s film is cinematic junk food of the most satisfying sort. So schedule a Zoom party and grab a slice, because THE POOL is an experience that’s best shared.
THE POOL is now streaming on Shudder