NIGHT SWIM (2024)
Release Date: 01/05/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Horror. Thriller.
Studio: Universal Pictures.
"A woman swimming in her pool at night is terrorized by an evil spirit."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
Most horror fans consider January a dumping ground for arguably less-than-stellar productions; studios send the predetermined duds to make a quick splash after the holiday period ends, only for these films to be panned, dismissed, and ultimately forgotten. This theory is, of course, absurd. Great movies, horror or otherwise, have been released in January. Blumhouse Studios, in particular, has found good fortune with 2017's Get Out and last year's M3GAN. Get Out was sharp, funny, scary, and award-winning. M3GAN wasn't particularly good but raised exciting conversations about AI (silver linings). But there is an argument to be made that Blumhouse got lucky, and those two films were outliers in an otherwise cursed window of the box office calendar. Because its latest release, Night Swim, makes a case that some films are better off buried in January.
Based on a 2014 short of the same name, Night Swim is written and directed by Bryce McGuire. This production pattern of expanding a short to feature length is nothing new. McGuire, who shares story credit with fellow co-creator Rod Blackhurst, is the latest filmmaker to take a simple concept best suited for a short film and expand it for broader appeal. Films like Saw, Lights Out, Mama, and Oculus are just a few examples of this formula. Some of those projects were appropriate for expansion, and some definitely were not. Night Swim falls into the latter category.
The story is quite simple. The Waller family moves into a home with a pool that is presumably haunted. Essentially, the elements of your typical haunted house movie have now moved to the backyard. The dad, Ray (Wyatt Russell), is a former professional baseball player who has developed symptoms of MS and is recommended to take water therapy for his muscles. His wife, Eve (Kerry Condon), is supportive and helpful. They have two kids, high schooler Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and younger, shyer Elliot (Gavin Warren). They are happy to settle down finally, like their mother, since their dad has stopped being traded from team to team.
Not long after the Wallers move in, strange occurrences begin, starting with Eve seeing someone standing outside the pool while she takes a few evening laps. Elliot sees a ghastly figure in the pool gutter while Izzy gets sucked deep into the pool, almost to another dimension, during a grab-ass game of Marco Polo with her boyfriend. These mounting experiences stress the family out, except for Ray, who has made a stellar (and almost complete) recovery with his lumbering therapeutic pool exercises.
I won't venture further with plot details to spare any spoilers for eager viewers. The issue with Night Swim is that it is neither scary nor wholly original. Originality may not be a fair bar to clear with derivative haunted house-type films. Because make no mistake, Night Swim is a haunted house movie, just one where the Wallers can host pool parties. This film may connect with younger audiences who might be less exposed to this horror sub-genre's worn-out plot beats. But anyone over 25 will be absolutely bored with Night Swim. Viewers even older than that may feel this film strikes some all-too-familiar chords. The trailer, which portrays a considerable chunk of the aforementioned Marco Polo scene, reminded my girlfriend of an episode of the 90s pseudo-scary kids program Are You Afraid of the Dark? which featured a haunted pool. That series was popular because it portrayed safe, digestible, scary stories that were, for all intents and purposes, quick 22-minute shorts. After some light research, an argument could be made that the creators were heavily influenced by early 90s Nickelodeon writing, as other elements from that show also crop up in Night Swim.
That influence-turned-strategy is a good idea, but those earlier stories were far more interesting, fun, and rewarding to experience than what this film turned out to be. Night Swim is a bore. It is not scary, it is not exciting, it is not fun. The runtime of 97 minutes slogs, which is exacerbated by all of the extra scenes shot to simply pad the runtime to hit the feature-length benchmark. Even with none of those issues present, there is still the ubiquitousness of the haunted house movie landscape from which Night Swim borrows plays and cues. I caught myself talking out loud in the theater, calling the next scene or story beat right before it happened. There are lazy jump scares that are painfully telegraphed juxtaposed with staging and blocking that often feel out of place.
I can appreciate the acting prowess that both Wyatt Russell and Kelly Condon possess. Russell has had a mostly strong body of work thus far, and Condon is coming off of an Oscar nomination for The Banshees of Inisherin. This film is a waste of their talent and an insult to the audience having to watch these two great performers say some of the silliest dialogue they've had to utter in a professional project. The highest recommendation for Night Swim is for audiences to steer clear and save their money. Night Swim is, unfortunately, another tally mark in the cursed January release column, bereft of any exciting or redeeming quality. For a film built around a haunted swimming pool premise, it comes up bone dry and should be filled in with dirt.