Review: THE POND, One Man's Descent to Madness or Ascent to Divinity
If he wakes up, we will cease to exist.
A day after watching Petar Pasic's debut feature-length film, The Pond, I'm still mulling over its implications. It has burrowed its way into the back of my mind much as similar understated and unsettling films often have. The Pond is in many ways a mix of The Wicker Man and Jacob's Ladder, billed as a folk-horror film, with something sinister simmering below the surface.
The plot is fairly straightforward but never spelled out. A disgraced (unnamed) professor coping with the death of his wife, from which he has not yet recovered, relocates to a cabin in the Balkins to continue his research. His daughter, clearly a living reminder of his wife's passing, and his new partner, a former student of his, come in tow.
Gradually the scope of his research reveals itself. He plans to prove that our reality is nothing more than a facade, that life is simply a stage play and the actual mechanics of the universe are far too complex for human minds to perceive. This is by no means the first time that theory has been tackled on film and realistically, probably close to the truth.
Still, that doesn't keep intrigue from building as the film progresses. Characters' personalities constantly change, their motivations are always unclear, and the nature of this place is undeniably fluid. The cast is sparse. In addition to the professor, his daughter, and his girlfriend, there is a chess-playing acquaintence of his, two young (oddly parentless) girls who have taken a shine to his daughter, and a mute, lethargic riverman who transports the professor to and from his research site daily. Speaking of the riverman, the shots of him carrying the professor are sublime and otherworldly, evoking imagery of the River Styx.
All of that said, the film is not without its faults. The dialogue always feels like the actors are reciting lines for an audition. I believe this is intentional, but it's something that will immediately turn off many viewers. As a fan of David Lynch, accustomed to his disjointed dialogue, I am not particularly bothered, but it is offputting at first. Some scenes don't make a whole lot of sense in relation to the rest of the film. At one point in the film the door to the professor's bathroom is suddenly locked and the score and camerawork tell us that's important, but it is not immediately clear as to why. And the cosmic horror element is teased early but we never get much more than a glimpse of what lies behind the curtains, although it wouldn't really work if we did.
Come the end, the denouement is fittingly surreal. Thematically, everything fell into place but due to the movie's esoteric nature, I still had plenty of questions. Revisiting some of the scenes and dialogue helped clarify a few things but left plenty open to interpretation.
The Pond often bites off more than it can chew. Regardless, I would much rather a movie have grand ambitions and miss the mark on a few of them than not to try at all. The Pond is still on my mind, and to me, that is the measure of the success of a film.
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