Night Swim Review

Night Swim
Night Swim
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It shouldn’t work for a haunted-swimming-pool horror – if I may say so myself and this is like a subgenre that barely exists. The question isn’t whether they can do it anymore (like why not try…not going in?), but when will the audience get tired of watching characters go back and forth between dry clothes and wet suits? How many more times do we need to see someone take off their flip-flops before giving up all hope on this kind of scare? So what makes Night Swim directed by Bryce McGuire stand out is his ability to explore this narrow idea – his debut film is flooded with ingenious ideas for horror sequences beyond belief transforming his 2014 short (co-directed by Rod Blackhurst) into a mostly fine popcorn shocker.

The scary quality of a suburban backyard pool is not in and of itself inherent. But McGuire and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff (who previously lensed Smile and Relic) create a depth of dread with crisp, stylish, water-centric photography, making eerily distorted images through those aquatic properties via queasy rippling effects, shafts of refracted light and pin-sharp reflections. It’s very effective. When the camera hovers just above the water, you’re left squirming at the thought of what lies beneath. And whenever it dips below, the shimmering surface suddenly seems miles away — particularly in moments where the pool is envisioned as an eerie infinite ocean. The film’s most seemingly restrictive arena instead becomes a playground for an array of inventive sequences. A coin-collecting game in the deep end, a pool party packed with potential victims. And a hormone-raging round of Marco Polo gone wrong. A head-swiveling front-crawl POV shot that teases half-glimpsed ghouls.

Night Swim Trailer

What makes these scares work is when we care about those characters who go into that water – and this too McGuire pulls off. The Waller family are deftly drawn, particularly Wyatt Russell as dad Ray. He may already be sinking before he gets into the swimming pool: concerned about his future while his MS progresses, refusing to fully engage with family life yet yearning to maintain his status as an up-and-coming baseball player despite suffering from an ill-health condition like arthritis which causes joint pain.

Kerry Condon brings considerable empathy as matriarch Eve, torn between the undeniable progress Ray is making with his water therapy and the ghostly visions she’s experienced in the pool. It’s a simple but well-established character dynamic that corresponds neatly to the supernatural shenanigans. Every time Ray, Eve, or their kids Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren) enter the water, you’ll be holding your breath.

Night Swim glides along with such confidence that the moments it threatens to sink feel all the more glaring. A final act detour to explain the reasons behind the ghostly goings-on is unnecessary. With boggy mythology and scares that aren’t a patch on any of the pool action. The strength of the family story is fumbled in a misjudged ending, with an unearned swing towards darkness that leaves a bitter aftertaste.

But it says a lot that the rest of the film buoys those third-act missteps — for the most part, Night Swim is a strong debut from McGuire that gestures towards IT, The Shining, Jaws, and Poltergeist while remaining well-conceived in its own right. It bodes well, too, for future collaborations between Blumhouse and James Wan’s Atomic Monster production company as they prepare to pool their efforts going forward. With smart scares, stylish camerawork, and strong sound design (all washed-out underwater sounds, panicked splashing, and nerve-jolting diving-board rattles). And engaging performances, it earns the horror equivalent of a Kellogg’s Rainbow swimming badge.

Read Night Swim on Fmovies

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