“Death Pool” (2016): Serial Drowner Film Sinks Like a Stone

Johnny Taylor (Randy Wayne) has big problems. Ever since his evil, but hot babysitter Debbie (Jessica Louise Long) tried to drown him in the backyard pool when he was a boy, he’s been so afraid of water that he won’t even drink it. Some 20 years after the incident, for some inexplicable reason, he takes a job as a pool cleaner, a job that not only makes Taylor face his fears, but embrace them to the point of becoming a serial drowner.

Watching the movie Death Pool, written and directed by Jared Cohn (Little Dead Riding Hood), the audience has a much bigger problem: Trying to stay interested. There is a plethora of horror movies based on the premise of a childhood tragedy leading to the creation of a murderous adult. The only things that truly separates the good from the godawful is the way the storyteller links the tragedy with the end result, i.e. showing the audience in a unique and compelling way how one led to the other, and the persuasiveness of the actor playing the killer’s part and whether it makes him believable to both his victims on the screen and the audience watching him kill them.

Death Pool sinks on both levels.

In terms of making the story unique, Cohn does little more than simply tell us that almost drowning as a boy makes Johnny Taylor drown women, adding the twist that his murderous impulses only kick in when a beautiful young woman teasingly taunts him into taking a swim with her. The act feels so good, at least as indicated by the porn star faces and noises the killer makes as he’s holding her underwater, that Johnny Taylor must kill again and again. Thank goodness, he just happens to drive past an indoor swimming pool club minutes after his first kill so he can keep the spree going, even if is completely ludicrous. In fact, the killings get more and more ludicrous as the movie rolls along. It’s almost funny to watch Taylor dragging around his victims looking for a place to drown them. He drags his landlady into the bathroom and drowns her in the tub, which he miraculously fills to drowning level in seconds. He wrestles his ex-girlfriend Scarlet (Sara Malakul Lane) over to the kitchen sink and drowns her with the tepid flow from the tap. And, in case you didn’t see it coming, one of his victims gets drowned in a toilet.

As if sensing the increasing incredulity of the plot, Cohn tries to add some social commentary into the mix by having Taylor, dubbed the Valley Drowner by the press, become a cult hero, a roll that he — and the audience — ultimately rejects as being ridiculous.

And speaking of ridiculous, did nobody involved in the making of the film think to coach Wayne on the subtleties of playing a serial killer effectively? A good bad guy seduces you (and his victims) even when we know what the outcome will be; he doesn’t just stomp around the screen with a comically evil look in his eyes as he prowls for a pretty woman and a convenient water supply to commit his next crime. Wayne shows no depth in his portrayal of Johnny Taylor; in real life, anyone seeing his twisted mug on the streets would call the cops as a precautionary measure. In Death Pool, everybody just ignores him until it’s too late which, like the incomprehensible ending, just infuriates the audience.

Death Pool (2016) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)



John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.