'The Pool' Review: This Crocodile Attack Movie Continually Tops Itself [Fantastic Fest 2019]

The Pool is a pro-life crocodile attack flick set in a drained Olympic-sized swimming pool that is incredibly mean-spirited towards its main character, improbably audacious...and sponsored by Pizza Hut? Ping Lumpraploeng's Thai creature feature is cheesily melodramatic and has it out for the few characters on screen with such meanness, which ensures a cackle-worthy "WTF" brand of riotous watching experience. Cultural nuances shape a comically overdramatic "monster" movie of questionable circumstances, always sold with the proper level of head-scratching entertainment. It's "a lot" in all the weirdest, most unexpected ways.Oh, also, any dog and animal lovers should be warned: The Pool will tear your heart out, stomp it into mush, and stuff the gunk back down your throat.Theeradej Wongpuapan stars as Day, an artistic director on a commercial shoot who finds himself stuck in an abandoned swimming pool after it drains. Chained to the fence is his dog, Lucky, who looks down on his master's attempts to escape the tiled pit. Then, a passing crocodile falls into the empty pool, making Day's situation that much worse. He has no food, no water, and now there's a hungry man-eating reptile in his way. That's the movie: one frantic man, his mean scaly adversary, and countless complications.Those worried Lumpraploeng doesn't have enough obstacles to play with inside a waterless bowl shouldn't fret. Day's situation may or may not include other characters, a human-sized drainage pipe, and outside influences behind unscalable walls. Exact details needn't be confirmed here since that's half of The Pool's secret sauce – discovering the endless ways Day is teased by survival – but it's worth putting your minds at ease. One thing you can't accuse Lumpraploeng's script of is repetition. It's a freestyle race against the clock, always switching up its stroke after every climactic spike.Admittedly, the animated crocodile's finalized rendering doesn't impress by current standards. No, Mr. Wongpuapan isn't fleeing from an actual beasty on set. It's quite easy to tell his toothy adversary is computerized, as the digital product stands out against the bright white pool surface. Photorealism isn't achieved on par with films like The Shallows and Crawl, nor do a few green screen shots inspire technical wonder – but, smartly, The Pool isn't here to challenge James Cameron's visual prowess. It's good enough, and when tuning in for vicious crocodiles thwarting a stranded swimmer's every strategized move, "good enough" is all you need.It's stunning to witness the myriad ways Lumpraploeng concocts to dangle escape like a carrot always out of reach, pulling it from Day's grasp over and over. I've hardly ever seen cinematic protagonists be tortured with such sadistic glee, as Day is both mentally and physically beaten into submission by countless elements. Day's treatment is astonishingly cruel, but also the main reason why you'll be howling through The Pool with such enthralled disbelief. The character's decision-making is rather moronic at times, yet under normal circumstances, even someone so self-sabotaging would eventually get lucky. Not here, and not Day, a man whose only "break" to catch involves his bones.Lumpraploeng succeeds in throwing every hurdle in the book at Day and always keeping intrigue afloat. Setups rarely fail to excite. Whether it be furniture from his employment's underwater model shoot, a pizza guy's bad timing, or picking between saving Lucky or his iPhone, The Pool doubles down on absurdity yet never torpedoes its pacing or tone. The crazier Day's encounters become, the more unfathomable each failure remains, and the more we embrace such a wild and wacky procession of middle-fingers directed at him. Wongpuapan sells every ounce of ill-fitting melodrama and odd anti-abortion subtext with "hands raised towards the sky" vigor, which is hil-freaking-arious. Don't get me wrong, Day's endangerment is serious – but Wongpuapan's stone-faced reactions play into Lumpraploeng's popcorn-savvy mentality that always favors amusement over reality.Fans of aquatic horror (it's water-based for a hot second) should get hyped, because The Pool is a bonkers blast from beginning to end. Each wave of misfortune crashes down harder than the last, pummeling a walled-in main character with sadistic spite. It's an insane "lock-in" made more preposterous by the minute, but also enthusiastically thrilling and so aggressively, astonishingly devious. At one point, mid-screening, I turned to a fellow colleague and exclaimed, "Who made this movie?!" It gave me nothing but joyful shock and disbelief over yet another heartless development depicted without sympathetic regard. This movie is so mean, so enjoyable, and so, so much fun./Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10