ReviewsTelevision & Film

NIGHT SWIM is Frustratingly All Wet

Night Swim (2024)
Screenplay by Bryce McGuire
Story by Bryce McGuire and Rod Blackhurst
Produced by Jason Blum and James Wan
Directed by Bryce McGuire
PG-13, 1hr 38m

Night Swim is a surprisingly frustrating movie.

Based on a 2014 short film of the same name, this film comes with a name that doesn’t really fit the feature film version, and a concept that doesn’t sound like it should work at all. I mean, this is a movie about a haunted swimming pool, and that’s… not an inherently scary idea.

And yet… Night Swim is a surprisingly frustrating movie, because it almost, almost, actually works.

Of course, that “almost” is the critical part, and the fact that it does succeed as much as it does is largely down to the fact that this really isn’t as much of a horror film as it is a supernatural family drama that draws from themes in myth and folklore. And, luckily, the film has a great cast for the family to carry the audience past a lot of things that aren’t explained, justified, or, sad to say, all that scary.

Wyatt Russell (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) plays Ray Waller, a pro-baseball player whose MS diagnosis and symptoms have derailed his career, and forced his family to settle down, something his wife, Eve — Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin) — has wanted to do for a while. This leads to them moving to a house which comes with a swimming pool, which initially thrills their kids, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle), and Elliot (Gavin Warren, Fear the Walking Dead), and becomes part of Ray’s therapy regimen.

This is the movie’s major — and it’s best — strength. For the majority of the runtime, this family dynamic is the backbone of the film, and whether it’s Ray and Eve’s clear and strong love for each other, or the pleasantly nuanced sibling dynamic between Izzy and Elliot, having really strong actors does make the threats they face have weight. If this had been just a drama about a family dealing with a new town, new schools for the kids, and the illness that redefines their lives, I feel this cast would have carried it ably, and… I kind of want to see that movie. But the supernatural intrudes on this family dynamic instead (it is a Blumhouse/Atomic Monster film after all) and as events unfold, the requirements of the script strain the family dynamic in ways that feel less than organic.

At first, things seem to be going well for the family. Eve’s new job with the school her son goes to has good health insurance, and she’s making friends with, among other neighbors, the realtor who sold them the house. Izzy joins the swim team at her high school and kindles a teen romance with another student. Elliott, a shy boy who isn’t as athletically inclined as his father and sister, is struggling a bit to fit in, but his parents are sure he’ll make friends. Most importantly, Ray’s use of the pool for therapy is showing positive results, so much so that his doctor is frankly stunned at how much better he’s gotten.

Then, one by one, everyone in the family aside from Ray starts seeing and hearing disturbing things when they’re in the pool, and the family cat goes missing…

First, the good. Aside from the strong cast, and the believable family relationships, when the script is about the family, it’s solid and often very good. The film looks good and is shot well, thanks to the direction of Bryce McGuire and cinematographer Charlie Sarnoff, and the use of underwater shots is effective, both in showing the family enjoying the water and in being endangered by what lurks within it. That lurking threat is an interesting idea that is far more than a haunted swimming pool, and the contrast between the supernatural threat and the rather unremarkable appearance of the kind of swimming pool that you can find in neighborhoods throughout the country works in the film’s favor more often than not. The manifestations of that threat are all things horror fans have seen before — this is a very jump scare-heavy movie — but they’re filmed and timed well.

Unfortunately, the “interesting idea” that is the real threat of the story needs more than jump scares and good camerawork and editing to actually be scary, and that’s where things don’t hold up for long. There are too many pieces of other movies in the execution — The Shining, IT, The Amityville Horror, and Poltergeist, specifically — and the reveal of what that real threat is gets brushed aside for an ending that evokes those films far too much. That reveal actually raises more questions than it answers, and then promptly ignores those questions, in a way that — to be fair — may be more aligned to how things would play out in the real world, but is narratively unsatisfying. And with each of the family having encounters with what lurks beneath the water, a sense of repetitiveness begins to sink in, and inconsistencies begin to pile up.

Those inconsistencies especially hurt the film when it comes to those encounters. The origins and motivations of the figures and voices the family encounters don’t make a lot of sense, and contradict themselves from scene to scene. The source of the threat — while, again, an idea I think is interesting, and rooted more in folk horror than the script seems to realize — is both terrifyingly powerful and easily defeated by, apparently, the power of love. And we get a research scene (something seemingly required in such stories) that reveals information that is so easily found and suspicious it makes one wonder how no one has put this info together before.

I almost want to recommend the movie for the performances, but can’t because of the story flaws, and that’s frustrating because the cast is committed to the material in exactly the way you want them to be. I’ve been very spoiler-lite here, largely because of that, but also because digging into the plot would turn this into a much longer article about my frustrations with the story flaws that undermine the performances of the cast.

It’s not that Night Swim is a bad movie, as much as it’s almost a decent, if not good one. It almost works, and that’s frustrating.

 

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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