Monday, July 24, 2023

‘The Pool’ – Diving into the German Slasher Movie 22 Years Later

While Germany wasn’t a significant contributor during the first revival of slasher movies, its few offerings are an interesting time capsule. These movies show how the country interpreted the subgenre during its postmodern era. Of all the homegrown German efforts from the early 2000s, The Pool (also known as Swimming Pool: Der Tod feiert mit) perhaps brings up the most nostalgia despite its vanishing act over the years. Boris von Sychowski’s vaguely remembered slasher didn’t make a huge splash back then, although that wasn’t from a lack of trying.

German slasher The Pool is openly set in Prague, yet the English dialogue, the rampant Hollywood movie clichés, and the generic pop-rock soundtrack all make American audiences feel more at home. The glaring Czech architecture and various accents, however, are constant reminders that the characters themselves are far from home. The adults and authority figures are either useless or plain nonexistent in the story, effectively leaving the teens to fend for themselves. Their autonomy eventually leads to trouble, of course.

At first, The Pool is guilty of the same inflexibility as other Scream imitators; the movie closely mirrors its progenitor’s design. In the predictable opening sequence, Anna Geislerová’s character Catherine is home alone and awaiting her boyfriend’s arrival when she’s caught off guard by the machete-wielding, incognito intruder. Although she has nothing on Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker, Catherine does, at one point, brandish a shotgun. After that, though, the movie continues as expected, and Catherine’s rushed demise is undiscovered until the conclusion. Her death, however, introduces the movie’s gimmick of pools. Not the pool but rather an incidental one.


Immediately after Catherine’s murder is a series of high-spirited scenes capturing the main characters’ last day as seniors. No one actually knows Catherine and her beau are dead yet, so the students at the International High School of Prague can be forgiven as they party it up after finals. This includes a secret afterparty following the official graduation festivities. Here then enters the indoor aquapark — a part of the real-life Centrum Babylon in Liberec — that evokes memories of ‘80s slashers like The Initiation, Chopping Mall, and Hide and Go Shriek. Similar to those movies, the characters here become trapped with their killer in a single location. This aquapark is luxurious and tacky all at the same time, but the venue quickly helps to distinguish The Pool from its contemporaries. 

The story wastes little time assigning character types. The perceivable protagonist is Sarah (Kristen Miller), an affable but timid American whose biggest flaw is her trusting nature. In the vein of Sidney Prescott, Sarah was traumatized at an early age. And as one might guess, Sarah’s survival depends on overcoming this problem. She’s not as stereotypically virginal as other “Final Girls” in the genre, seeing as Sarah is shown post-coitus with boyfriend Gregor (Thorsten Grasshoff), but when juxtaposed with her hypersexual and provocative best friend Carmen (Elena Uhlig), she is the more inhibited of the two. Interestingly, though, Carmen defies all time-honored conventions regarding hypersexual characters in slashers. Carmen would be condemned in another movie, whereas the writers here not only spare her, they grant her the most character development.

The Pool boasts not one but two “before they were famous” actors. The first being Isla Fisher, whose wretched character Kim crosses paths with the killer before the titular pool even comes into view. Meanwhile, her sensitive boyfriend Mike is played by a rather broguish James McAvoy. At the time, viewers probably didn’t think twice about either of these actors’ characters as they fought for their lives on screen. Watching the movie now, the retroactive recognition is overwhelming.


It feels like a wasted opportunity to not have the characters all stay in their immediate environment; the large and expensive international school shown briefly in the first act could have been a serviceable deathtrap. The invasion of safe spaces is, after all, common in the slasher subgenre. However, moving the cast from their prep school to an extravagant aquapark doesn’t mean the movie’s conversation about privilege is axed. Isla Fisher’s character, a frustrated scholarship student, spews resentment all over her boyfriend before being done in by the killer. Mike, like his friends, comes from money and not a single one of them seems to care about their final exam results. Unlike Kim, they likely wouldn’t need good grades to advance in life anyway. The audience might feel guilty for taking delight in these entitled brats’ slaughter, but it’s not as if the writers pleaded their cases all that well. Seasoned viewers are also not unfamiliar with the schadenfreude quality of slashers both old and new.

The killer doesn’t have the most intimidating disguise, but he or she does look quite fashionable. The dressed-in-all-black assailant is seen in tight leather pants, combat boots, and a long-sleeved shirt with the most severe turtleneck. To make this look “scary,” a skull mask then tops off the whole ensemble. It’s less effective than Ghostface, yet this villain is unusually chic. Despite their smart outfit, the killer doesn’t pull their punches. They do some serious damage with a machete, including brutal set-pieces on a waterslide and inside an air duct. While those in charge of the movie’s audio may have been too eager during the action scenes, the pure and audible sound of the machete — be it slashing through the air, or burying the blade in someone or some hard surface — is oddly pleasing to the ear.

German slasher movie

A frequent complaint about The Pool is its characters. Right away a number of actors have a language barrier to contend with, so trying to understand them can pose a challenge. More concerning, though, is how indistinguishable the characters are from one another. Whether it’s their similar clothes and hair, their cursory personalities, or simply the uninspired casting, certain characters are easily mixed up. The overstuffed cast does make the killer’s true identity less obvious, although viewers won’t be faulted if they ask “who?” once the mask finally comes off. Even their motive will lead to shrugs.

The simple and straightforward approach demonstrated here was once dismissed and taken for granted, but that unassuming execution is seen as charming and refreshing nowadays. It’s a flawed movie in many respects; the acting is all over the place, the dialogue is consistently awkward, and the plot holes start to amass. When viewed as a descendant of cheesier ‘80s slashers rather than a self-aware exercise from the meta period, though, The Pool is a great deal more enjoyable. Finding a copy isn’t easy, seeing as this movie hasn’t made its way to Blu-ray or streaming yet. Even so, those willing to take the plunge are guaranteed to have fun with The Pool.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

pool German slasher

The post ‘The Pool’ – Diving into the German Slasher Movie 22 Years Later appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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