A father takes his wife, two sons, a friend and his daughter on a hiking trip in the woods. After a long search for a spot to set up camp, the father finds a perfect place overlooking a pool. Everybody seems to get settled quickly and when the night falls the two sons listen to a ghost story told by their father’s friend at the campfire. The youngest son begins to have strange dreams and bizarre occurrences begin to develop at the camp site.
Just when you thought camping with the family couldn’t get creepier.
Cramped damp tents, claustrophobia-inducing sleeping bags, luxurious aromatic portapotties… Oh the agonising memories of camping with my parents back in the day! At least that was what I considered agonising until I caught Chris W. Mitchell’s The Pool.
Whilst Mitchell certainly sets up camp in typical horror-in-the-woods territory, most familiar horror tropes are quickly eschewed in favour of a decidedly character-driven piece. Keenly fusing the supernatural and the unknown with much more down-to-earth and relatable situations – in this case simmering family feuds – audiences are in for a refreshingly uncharted cinematic experience.
By far the film’s strongest suit is the solid cast with the actors never laying their thriving hysteria on too thick. Protagonist (and co-writer) Gijs Scholten van Aschat carries most of the weight of the film, convincingly crumbling against the pressure of an overbearing and ambiguous threat that dredges up every conceivable underlying grudge between the group members. It must be said that the whole cast puts in a fine job overall and inspired authentic dialogue and touches of wicked wit helps to add a huge dose of realism to the performances resulting in a much more shocking denouement when mistrust and unexpected discoveries raise the stakes to brutally violent levels.
Although the film is a supernatural shocker at heart, what really makes everything tick is the fact that The Pool’s most shocking scenes involve what would normally be written off as perfectly feasible suspicions and mistrust between family and friends. For the most part the hidden evil is left to our imagination and Mitchell makes every “perfectly feasible” situation all the more foreboding by toying with the idea of whether what the characters are experiencing is in fact real or a figment of their imaginations, elaborated by an evil spirit we are lead to believe is lurking in the nearby lake.
The first hour or so is quite the slow burn but it never gets bogged down thanks to some clever plotting and the aforementioned impeccable performances. Having said that, fasten your seatbelts when the final reel comes along as it packs one mighty visceral punch. Kudos to special effects artist Harry Wiesenhaan and cinematographer Gábor Deák who both really help to render such an ambiguous and foreboding ethereal vibe.
All in all The Pool works so well thanks to Mitchell’s sage decision to give his human characters and their psychological disintegration preference over supernatural shocks. This is an essential chaotic, claustrophobic and character-driven chillfest for anyone with a penchant for sui generis filmmaking as The Pool delivers a fiendishly fresh ‘horror in the woods’ dynamic.
If you had a camping holiday planned some time soon rest assured you’ll find yourself online booking a 5 star all-inclusive hotel deal straight after watching this one…
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)