Single-location films are notoriously difficult to pull off. When a film is primarily set in one place, it is the filmmaker’s job to keep the audience entertained and focused with constant obstacles and jeopardy. There is a much smaller margin for error than your standard multi-location affair. The Pool is one movie in a long line of cinematic experiments to nail this formula. Released in Thailand in 2018, and now streaming on Shudder, The Pool tells the simple story of a man and his girlfriend trapped at the bottom of a drained pool for seven days. Oh, and there is also a killer crocodile in there with them.
Straight off the bat, The Pool wants you to know that it is a ridiculous film, showing you the killer croc munching away at our hero Day’s (Theeradej Wongpuapan) leg. Then we’re flashing back to a strange underwater scene of a clown, showing his life as an art director before the pool drained. Herein lies The Pool’s first major problem: the crocodile is completely computer-generated, and as soon as you see the effects, the low budget of the film becomes immediately obvious. There is absolutely no problem with a film relying on CGI to generate its villains from the animal kingdom, but when the plot relies so heavily on this beast, it would have helped if it were even a little bit convincing. This is not the only place where The Pool’s CGI does not stand up to its counterparts. The sky above the pool is largely, and quite obviously, matted in, which really takes you out of the terror of the situation and makes it feel as though you are watching a deleted scene from The Room.
In contrast to The Pool’s CGI, the practical effects, although used sparingly, are highly effective. Throughout the film there is a decent amount of understated but skin-crawling gore. Scenes involving slow but brutal fingernail removal, or Day trying to scale a wall with a barbed wire rope, are phenomenal examples of extreme but naturalistic bloodiness. They more than achieve their job of making the audience squirm. It is a shame that this commitment to excellent practical effects was not extended to more key aspects of the film.
The use of injury in The Pool serves as a great way to increase tension and punctuate those moments in the plot where our characters are met with yet another obstacle to overcome. The issue is that these moments are some of the only tense and exciting moments in the film. Other plot points feel unnecessary, or the pay-offs and motivations of these instances are so ridiculous that they feel out of place.
For the majority of the film, Day and Koi are joined by Day’s extremely well-trained stunt dog, Lucky, who aids the characters throughout from the top of the pool. At one point, the quick-thinking canine saves them from starvation by dropping down a box of pizza. There is another moment in the film where the dog nearly falls into the pool, and hangs over the edge by its paws, like Slyvester McCoy’s cliff-hanger finale in Doctor Who.
If this sounds ludicrous written down, imagine how bizarre it looks in a film that is marketed as a gripping fight for survival. Combine a chipper animal companion with a crocodile that does nothing but nap in between the action sequences, a pro-life subplot brought on from finding a positive pregnancy test on Koi’s half-drowned, unconscious person, and a huge portion of the plot dedicated to Day trying to get his insulin, and The Pool quickly loses its steam and its ability to thrill.
The lacklustre plot points are The Pool’s major tripping point, and contribute to a largely inconsistent tone. The film feels completely unsure of its own identity and purpose. During some scenes, you will be truly at the edge of your seat or writhing uncomfortably at a bit of light dismemberment. Unfortunately, for most of the film you will be met with bright, optimistic blue and green tones, and witness multiple heart-warming scenes of a man and his dog accompanied by a chirpy score. Any exciting scenes or solutions will be signposted for you early in the film. At some points, you may even begin to question whether it is going to turn into the unauthorised sequel of Tim Allen’s The Shaggy Dog.
The Pool was never going to try and win awards as a serious, art house horror. It was always going to be a bit silly with the pitch “127 Hours, but replace the desert with a pool, and the rock with a crocodile”, but it certainly is a lot of fun at times. Sadly, a plodding plot and wildly inconsistent tone mean that it feels more like Lake Placid with an emphasis on the placid.