In the arthouse horror scene, I always feel like the odd man out...
...It’s like I’m a high school freshman who wound up at a senior party and tries really hard to act cool but ends up fucking something up. Basically, it’s a genre that I often turn my nose to (and I’m sure they turn theirs right back) and overlook as pretentious art school grads trying to make something profound. Sometimes I’m right on target, but other times, like with director Petar Pasic’s new film, The Pond, I am put in my place. I’m not implying the film is something revelatory, but The Pond lulls you into its moody world of melodrama and mystery.
Written by Dusan Bulic, The Pond’s story revolves around an anthropology professor (Marco Canadea) who is on the verge of an apocalyptic discovery. Essentially, it’s his job to monitor and record information on a local pond. After becoming obsessed with a theory on defying death, he is plagued with hallucinations and visions, and his reality distorts to the point where he doesn’t know who to trust.
There’s a reason I put The Pond in the arthouse horror category. The film deals with some really interesting concepts and is shot with creative intent. While these are great things, if you don’t know what to do with these concepts, you’re left with floating ideas. That’s kind of what The Pond feels like. It’s fun when science fiction or horror films obsess over crazy, “out there” theories and ideas, but the concepts in The Pond are always teased, never explored. For most of the film, we follow the professor around as he goes through his mundane days and many chess sessions with his unnamed friend, played by Paul Leonard Murray. Every so often, something strange will happen, or a connection to the professor’s “circle” theory will be revealed, and it feels like the film just doesn’t know how to pace itself. Fortunately, I never entered bored territory thanks to the impressive performance by Canadea. He strengthens a cast that feels otherwise lackluster. The child actors are perhaps the most noticeably wooden, and it can sometimes take you out of the film. In one scene, for example, two of the children are presented like the twins from The Shining (1980) in such a way that it shifts your focus to Kubrick’s film and away from the story onscreen. Aside from my very specific nit-pick there, the film just seems to have an overall rehearsed feeling to all the lines. Canadea’s performance is the most convincing, and without it the film would likely be a bit harder to stick with.
While the film may ultimately be a muddled mess of ideas, it has a very robust visual style that stays consistent with its themes and overall aesthetic. Sepia tones and cold greys take up most of the screen, adding a sense of unease to the foggy, confusing web of events the film presents. The color palette alone offers a chilling mood. More abstractly, most of the characters seem to be in a constant state of distress, frustration, or anxiety, which mirrors the limbo-like state our protagonist claims to be in. Each of these elements comes together well enough to build a rich atmosphere that effectively conveys the film’s well-formed themes and sentiments.
There are definitely things to like about The Pond. Canadea is engrossing to watch and his earnest intentions make you deeply sympathize with his character. Visually, the film boasts great consistency and knows how to set a mood for itself. Still, without a gripping story, The Pond turns into a bit of a missed opportunity. Perhaps a tighter script would have brought the ideas presented in the film together in a more coherent way. There’s absolutely no reason to rush out and see this, but if you’re home alone on a rainy day and looking for something to keep with the gloomy mood, you could do much worse than The Pond.
The Pond comes to VOD/Digital from Shout! Studios February 23rd.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth
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