What A Croc
The Pool is streaming on Shudder.
There aren’t too many animals that genuinely scare me. Sure, I know that my place on the food chain isn’t anywhere near as high as I’d like to think. During a visit to the Denver Zoo a year or so back, I was spending time at the lion exhibit. A male lion padded up close to the barrier, sat down, then gave me a long look. That look was similar to the look I used to give the Taco Bell menu in college.
As a middle-aged man with white beginning to speckle my beard, there are still a few critters that freak me out. One is chimpanzees, and as adorably cute as they tend to be while they’re young, I’ve read too much about chimp adulthood. Consider that a chimp is four times as strong as a human—meaning that if it decides to rip your arm off, that arm is going bye-bye. They also have incredibly sharp teeth and a nasty habit of aggression.
The scariest, though? That’s easy—alligators and crocodiles. Do you know why they have barely evolved over millions of years? Because they were designed to be soulless, remorseless killing machines, and God got it right the first time.
Last year,* Crawl was released theatrically. An excellent and efficient horror film, it followed a young woman attempting to rescue her father during an approaching hurricane, and the alligators that complicated matters. I loved it. I didn’t love The Pool quite as much, the film festival darling from Thailand that’s currently streaming, but it’s still a fun, inventive, and gruesome good time.
We’re introduced to Day (Theeradej Wongpuapan), a man having a very bad time of things. He wakes up in a daze. The walls and floor are smooth tiled white. Debris is scattered around, such as an antique sofa. Oh, almost forgot to mention, there’s also a crocodile gnawing on Day’s leg. As you can imagine, this is far from ideal.
We flash back to six days earlier, and we learn that Day makes a pittance as an art director for film sets. He’s acutely aware of his lack of success, and he worries that poverty will claim his girlfriend Koi (Ratnamon Ratchiratham) and doom their chances for a better life. She might be pregnant, and he’s not entirely sure that’s a good thing.
The last day of shooting takes place at a pool that’s six meters deep.** Once the shoot is finished, it’s Day’s job to clean up and drain the pool. He’s taking his time, and while his dog hangs out poolside, Day decides to flop out on a floatie and take a little nap. Bad move, Day! The pool drain is rather more efficiently than expected, and Day finds himself trapped. “But wait,” I hear you asking, “why doesn’t he just climb out with a ladder or use the stairs?” Well…because this particular pool doesn’t have stairs, a ladder, or a shallow end. That’s suspension of disbelief for you.
As Day struggles to find a way out, things get worse when Koi arrives, falls in, and promptly gets a concussion. Does the universe give him a break after this? It does not! As a matter of fact, a rogue crocodile*** proceeds to also fall into the pool. Now, Day must devise a plan to escape the pool, rescue Koi, and keep the two of them from becoming crocodile chow in the process.
There are some films that operate from a place of nightmarish logic. They proceed inexorably to what can only be a horrifying conclusion, and when it’s all said and done, you can only marvel at the demonic logic on display. The Pool is not one of those movies. In point of fact, there are several instances that are deeply stupid, and several times during the movie, I exclaimed, “But why don’t they just…?”
In spite of that, for a movie this bone-headed, The Pool remains a highly effective creature feature. Director Ping Lumpraploeng gets an absurd amount of mileage from setting up smaller problems for Day to deal with. Can he reach his phone before it falls into the water? Does the drainpipe lead to safety? It becomes funny after a while because when a new element is introduced, you know it will come into play later. Lumpraploeng has absolutely no problem bombarding viewers with jump scares, gore, and sustained tension. His direction is effective as hell, so much so that during my viewing, my son Liam had to ask me to stop yelling at the screen. I also appreciated the notification that no animals were harmed in the making of the film, and the shaky VFX of the croc proved that.
In all fairness, there’s a scene late in the film that almost caused me to bail on the whole thing. As a critic, it would be morally wrong to reveal just what that is. However, I will say that a thing happens that usually wouldn’t happen in an American film, and it happens with a shocking degree of brutality. Consider yourselves warned.
You would expect a screenplay about a couple menaced by a reptilian horror to not be about anything of substance. For the most part, you’d be correct here. Ping Lumpraploeng wrote the script as well, and for the most part, it’s broken up into “Day has a specific problem and must try to solve it.” That’s fine, but the B-plot is where I was a little surprised. Day discovers that Koi is pregnant. He’s not expecting that and is terrified his child will grow up struggling. As a result, he debates whether or not he should suggest an abortion. I was quite surprised to hear cogent arguments about abortion coming from two people trapped in an empty pool, and you know what? It works! It’s a moment that tells us about both characters. We learn who they are, what they want, and what they fear.
At the end of the day, this film has two characters only. I liked Ratnamon Ratchiratham as Koi, though her character doesn’t have too much to do. She’s bubbly and perky, then unconscious, then panicky. That’s not her fault, and I think if her role had been beefed up, she would have done solid work. The film really rests on the shoulders of Theeradej Wongpuapan as Day. I kept thinking of Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard while watching Wongpuapan’s likable performance. He’s playing a regular guy who’s reasonably intelligent, resourceful, and is up against terrible luck. You can see him thinking furiously, trying to work out each additional problem, and trying to roll with the repeated punches the universe throws at him.
At the end of the day, The Pool sinks or swims based on its execution. While the film gets dopey at times, and it goes to a few unnecessarily dark places, it’s ultimately a fast-paced creature feature with some serious teeth.
*Back in the day when I could catch a movie and not be taking my life in my hands because of some dopey rando who won’t wear a mask because “freedom.”
**If you’re an ignorant American like me who won’t get with the program, six meters is a hair under 20 feet.
***There’s a moment in the film where a newspaper headline helpfully mentions, “Police are searching for a crocodile.”