★★★★ out of ★★★★★
So close. Not quite. Just about there. One more try. Close but no cigar. You’re right in the ballpark. Just. One. More. Inch. This is the prevailing and effectively repeated trope in the 2019 (U.S. release) Thai film, The Pool.
Directed by Ping Lumpraploeng, the Pool is a nerve-wracking, claustrophobic, and tight affair. It starts with a bang and ends with a loving and warm karaoke montage. In between exists a world of poor choices, clumsy maneuvers, and ever-so-close attempts at righting the ship.
The Pool is an incredibly simple film set entirely within — you guessed it — a swimming pool. The film follows a handsome young film production assistant, Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), on a high-concept video shoot. Unclear if it’s a film, a video, or a perfume advertisement, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Day is part of the art department responsible for general production assistant tasks, as well as being an animal wrangler for his impossibly fluffy sheepdog, Lucky. The entire video production is in and around a massive abandoned pool used for competitive diving. While the film never quite discloses the depth of the pool, it’s safe to say we’re looking at something in the 20 to 25 foot range — AKA just out of reach.
The grueling video shoot wraps up, the cast and crew celebrate, and Day is left behind to do the dubious cleanup work. He and his pal begin the drain the pool and an exhausted Day decides to take a quick float in the pool. As Day lounges in the pool his pal reminds him with a clever little bit of foreshadowing that he’s diabetic and needs to tend to his insulin regimen. The lounging quickly evolves in to a joyous catnap as the pool drains in a languorous way. The heat of the sun awakens Day. As he approaches the edge of the pool he comes to awful realization that he is 12+ feet below the edge of the pool. There’s no steps. No ladder. No way out.
As day pointlessly and hopelessly floats in the pool, he’s eventually visited by his girlfriend, Koi (Ratnamon Ratchiratham). Koi excitedly spots Day and decides to join him for a dip in the pool. Panicked, he warns her NOT to jump in the pool. In one of the more painful and unnerving scenes, Koi slips, smacks her head on the diving plaform, and, meanders to the bottom go the pool. As Day now contends with Koi, his trusty dog Lucky is simultaneously chained to the side of the pool baking in the hot Thai heat. Lucky continues to bark and holler in harmony with his master’s frustration, but his howling and woofing attracts the wrong kind of help — an 800 pound siamese crocodile.
An insulin dependent production assistant, a concussed girlfriend, a restrained dog, and a hungry croc all must find a way to peacefully coexist. Director Ping Lumpraploeng manages to riddle this simple device with so many believable and thoughtful conceits. Insulin plays a factor, the confines of the pool, cellular phones, trapped crocs, interpersonal drama between Koi and Day, and even Lucky plays a profound, but incredibly sad role in this refined survival epic.
The Pool is tight, smart, and it puts the viewer smack dab in the middle of the most terrifying question imaginable — what would I do in this situation? No where to run. (Mostly) no where to hide. Do you stand and fight? Do you accept fate’s crummy plot? Do you sacrifice others for the good of yourself and the future? All these questions come out to play in one of the most rebarbative film events in years. The fears are real, tangible, inescapable, and they’re all in the deep end of the pool.
The Pool is likely Rated R and currently streaming on Shudder.