The Pool

The Pool (2018)

The Pool first published by

“Nothing could be worse,” says Day (Theeradej Wonguapan). While asleep floating on an inflatable mattress on his birthday – normally a time of celebration – diabetic Day has become trapped in a large, ladder-less six-metre-deep pool whose water has been mostly drained, with his dog Lucky chained by the pool’s edge above, with his insulin just out of reach, and with his girlfriend Koy (Ratnamon Ratchiratham) bloody and unconscious after he tried – and failed – to stop her diving in to join him.

Unlike Day, however, we already know that things are going to get much, much worse. For writer/director Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool begins with a teaser scene from five days later, as a confused, bloody Day wakes up in the now fully drained pool to find his splinted leg being chomped by a large crocodile which he has to fight off with only a metal bucket. In fact, by a cruel irony, that crocodile, which escaped from a nearby reptile farm during local flooding, had fallen into the pool with Day and Koy on the first day, in the scene immediately after Day had suggested aloud that nothing could be worse.  

So it is that The Pool joins a small subgenre of films – David R. Ells’ Snakes on a Plane (2006), Carlos Brooks’ Burning Bright (2010), Kimble Rendall’s Bait (2012), Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012), Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows (2016), Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down (2017), Alexandre Aja’s Crawl (2019) and Andrew Traucki’s Black Water: Abyss (2020) – in which human characters become trapped in a very confined space with aggressive, deadly beasts, and must ultimately, if they are to stay alive, confront their greatest fears head-on. 

If this sounds like a ridiculously artificial exercise in genre, Lumpraploeng both knows it and keeps reminding us that he knows it. Prior to Day’s predicament, the pool was being used for an underwater commercial shoot, and the classic sofa that remains within it as a surreal prop continues to mark the pool as, precisely, a film set. In this way, The Pool is constantly, overtly reflexive about its own status as a film: the chaotic chain of events (part human error, part freak weather) that brings Day and Koy to their perilous circumstances plays out with self-conscious silliness as screenwriter’s contrivance no less than cosmic joke. Just embrace the absurdity, accept that The Pool is ‘only a movie’, and you will be treated to the stripped-down joys of genre, where the simplest of human actions become a tense, frustrating ordeal, and hard-snapping mortality is never far away. For Day must fight not only thirst, hunger, the symptoms of untreated diabetes and the risk of both parching and drowning, but also a dangerous creature as broody as Koy and as ravenous as both of them.  

“No animal was harmed in the making of this motion picture,” reads text at the film’s beginning. Indeed the crocodile, far from being real, is a (convincing) CG concoction – and also a symbol. For much as Day’s week in hell begins with his birthday, it is also a trial in which he will be reborn, and will acquire new attitudes to birth itself. At the beginning of his story, Day is a lowly, barely noticed film-set ‘art guy’ who has little time or money to spend with his beloved, and who would rather Koy have an abortion than a baby – but by the end he will become both fully centred hero and highly committed father. Meanwhile Day’s struggle with the very notion of maternity is figured as a seven-day face-off with an inhumanly hostile mother. The crocodile’s eggs, and the ovoid music box that Koy gives Day for his birthday, become ever-present signifiers of the fragile embryo that Koy is carrying in her belly. For in this microcosmic (gene) pool, over the same number of days that God is said to have spent creating the universe, amid the constant threat of death, fragile new life is being incubated. 

In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than this fun, fraught, knowingly farcical fish-out-of-water survival thriller.

Summary: Ping Lumpraploeng’s film confronts its emerging hero with the jaws of a crocodile and the terrifying possibility of fatherhood.

Anton Bitel