Cult horror writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky’s new made-for-television slasher movie, Pool Boy Nightmare, collapses under the weight of its lack of identity and poor execution. The story follows Adam (Tanner Zagarino), a 25-year-old pool boy who attempts to seduce Gale (Jessica Morris), the divorced mother of 18-year-old Becca (Ellie Darcey-Alden). Gale rebuffs him, so Adam starts seducing Becca to make Gale jealous. When his attempts fail, Adam becomes increasingly psychopathic, leading to Gale, Becca, and those around them being threatened.
It is fascinating that much of the movie revolves around Adam’s broken psyche, as most slashers do not focus on humanizing their villains. This could have led to a more nuanced film than most of its horror contemporaries. Unfortunately, Pool Boy Nightmare plays it safe in every other regard. The movie doesn’t make time to flesh out any of its other characters, beyond the cliche of the workaholic mother, the innocent teenage daughter who only thinks about boys, the unfaithful ex-husband (Clark Moore), and the best friend who is much more sexually active and also only thinks about boys (Cynthia Aileen Strahan). These cliched caricatures would be more acceptable in a movie more self-aware of how harmful and dehumanizing these stereotypes are. On top of that, these stereotypes are even more damaging when the villain is the only character to have a fleshed-out personality. All of this suggests that Kanefsky didn’t have a firm grasp of what his story was about, nor what he was trying to do with it.
“…Adam becomes increasingly psychopathic, leading to Gale, Becca, and those around them being threatened.”
The movie’s poor execution further solidified to me that this movie had a true identity crisis. From the multitude of handheld shots to the inconsistent lighting, the visual experience felt either distractingly sterile or bombastic, but consistently amateur. Additionally, the acting constantly felt stilted, forced, and monotone. In a straight-faced horror film, the expressions of the characters are among the most important aspects to ensure that the movie delivers a real scare. When the characters we follow deeply express their terror, a good horror film has us feeling the horror. It is a fine line to walk, and Pool Boy Nightmare almost immediately falls off. On top of the characters being cliched and hard to care about, their expressions felt comical in their absurdity. This is especially true of Zagarino’s performance, as felt like he was aping the unique insanity of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but fell far short in no due part because Adam is not the Joker.
The movie’s quality was further diminished by a score that was utterly forgettable and distracting due to it continually telegraphing the emotions of the scenes. Music in a horror film is another important factor for creating terror, but the score here was always telling me how to feel, rather than enhancing the emotions I already felt.
Muddled execution leaves Pool Boy Nightmare both uncomfortable and uninteresting to experience. With a clearer direction, whether serious or not, the movie could have at least been fun. Instead, we have a bland made-for-television horror film that isn’t good for much beyond background noise in one’s living room.
"…uncomfortable and uninteresting..."