Night Swim (2024)
Director: Bryce McGuire
Screenwriters: Bryce McGuire, Rod Blackhurst
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Heoferle, Gavin Warren
The Shining. A story about a family moving to a new location. Sinister things are afoot, hauntings of those long since dead, and the youngest can see it but the older ones don’t seem to acknowledge it. Then the father seems to get stronger, possessed by the spirits haunting the place. He comes after the rest of the family, there’s a long weapon involved (a mallet in the book, axe in the film), and right at the end (of the book at least), the father has a momentary realisation of what’s going on and sacrifices himself to save his family.
That’s also the plot of Night Swim. Only instead of The Overlook Hotel, it’s a haunted swimming pool. So, as expected, it’s not good.
At best, Night Swim is uninspired. Much like the 1979 film When a Stranger Calls, the opening of the film is a recreation of the original short, which was a fairly effective 3-minute thriller in its own right. But now we have to put an entire plot around it, and therein lies the rub. It gets tricky when you had very little to go on in the first place. You therefore end up confined to a haunted swimming pool, which is an idea which might be OK if done well, except it isn’t done well because every sequence involving the pool is monotonous, derivative, and an almost copy-paste of an earlier scene. The same rough thing happens every time we need a horror moment in the pool. The shots, the editing, the attempted scares, all get rinsed and repeated several times throughout.
With a feeling of reluctant stupidity, the rest of the film must try to make something of its premise, and only succeeds in tripping itself up. Formula begets formula, and if you’ve seen almost any well-funded horror release in the past decade, you’ll find all of the tropes here waiting to be ticked off the bingo list. Complete with an Insidious-inspired alternate world of the spirits (with a very specific doorway-like portal to the expanded, impossible-dimensions realm of the beyond), complete with road trip to see someone previously affected by the strangeness ala Smile or The Bogeyman (sheer exposition at this point and without even being subtle about it), and with enough Stephen King-esque focuses on small-town families, children in peril sticking together, a Christine-esque rebuilding to health of the haunted one; it doesn’t try to hide that it is simply rehashing everything everyone else has ever seen before.
Lead actor Wyatt Russell is decent in parts, but his take on the troubled, tormented, possessed father here sinks to the bottom of the stagnant pond. Amélie Heoferle and Gavin Warren are perhaps the only real shining points of the film, and for two child actors to outshine the other performances (including one by Kerry Condon, Oscar-nominated for The Banshees of Inisherin) is both a testament to them and worrying for the film. Their dynamic as brother and sister, without the usual disenfranchised, uncaring bratty rivalry, is a good change of pace from films of the sort. As for the rest of it, nothing holds any water. The directing is bland and derivative, the music forgettable, the cinematography acceptable if underwhelming.
The worst thing about Night Swim is that despite being only 98 minutes long, including credits, when you’re watching the film it feels like you’re two hours in and it still keeps going. There’s so much thrown at you, but it’s all so dull that whenever you think it would be a great place to have a final moment, the narrative finds another way to keep itself going, dragging itself through the sludge. The film is the most Blumhouse of Blumhouse releases: it’s nice and shiny and shimmery, made with a decent budget and good camera quality, but has absolutely nothing of any value going for it. Horror movies don’t have to be scary, but when you’re not, at least give something else.
Swim away from this film as fast as you can.