Night Swim (United States, 2024)

January 05, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Night Swim Poster

Night Swim looks and feels like one of those throw-away horror films that Blumhouse churns out with regularity. Last year, M3gan took the January pole position and lapped the pack, stunning with a $30M opening weekend and final domestic gross of nearly $100M. Night Swim isn’t expected to do as well – the marketing hasn’t been as aggressive and the film isn’t as expertly made – but it should fare nicely in the wasteland that is early January.

Night Swim is primarily a ghost story but, although director Bryce McGuire (who wrote the screenplay based on a 4-minute short film he co-made with Rod Blackhurst in 2014) choreographs some creepy water-based scares (the best of which, as featured in the trailer, involves a game of Marco Polo), the plot is a mess. The “truth” is unsatisfying and the resolution lacks impact. The movie is at its best when it’s content with being atmospheric and spooky. As soon is it starts explaining things, the story goes down the drain with the water being pumped out of the pool.

The movie opens with an effectively unsettling prologue in which a young girl (Ayazhan Dalabayeva) has an unfortunate counter while swimming in a backyard pool. Jumping ahead to the present day, we meet the Waller family: father Ray (Wyatt Russell), mother Eve (Kerry Condon), daughter Izzy (Amelie Hoeferle), and son Elliot (Gavin Warren). Ray, a former Major League Baseball player, is afflicted with a progressive neuromuscular disease (possibly ALS), and has been recommended with daily water therapy to help with his condition. So the family buys a house with a backyard pool. And, while his daily swims seem to cause an almost miraculous improvement to Ray’s health, the other three family members have less pleasant experiences with the pool, hearing voices, seeing ghostly apparitions and, in one case, discovering an underground world of ghouls and ghosts far beneath the surface. While Eve, Izzy, and Elliot come to believe that the pool is haunted, Ray sees only his physical advances.

I haven’t seen Night Swim’s inspiration but it’s easy to envision that, denuded of most of its ridiculous plot, this could be fertile ground for horror. McGuire proves himself to be a more capable director than writer. By using a variety of lenses and angles, he expands the rather ordinary setting of an in-ground pool into something vast and potentially dangerous. This seemingly harmless recreational location becomes fraught with terrifying possibilities, giving new meaning to the term “deep end.”

The Blumhouse method demands that filmmakers refrain from hiring “name” actors as a way to lower costs. Although there have been exceptions (notably Jamie Lee Curtis), most B-grade productions emerging out of Jason Blum’s warehouse have featured anonymous performers of variable quality. Night Swim is no different. While Oscar nominee Kerry Condon is expectedly very good, crafting a credible character from a thinly-written type, he co-stars aren’t on the same level. Young actors Amelie Hoeferle and Gavin Warren could use more seasoning and Wyatt Russell (the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) spends a little too much time mugging for the camera.

For those whose only requirements for horror movies are that they avoid the excesses of blood/gore/violence prevalent in R-rated fare and incorporate a few good jump-scares, Night Swim checks the requisite boxes. For those looking for a more complete experience, however, the movie struggles even to achieve the level where it would be considered worthwhile as a streaming option. It has moments but those never add up to a complete film. Oh, and as an aside, how come it’s okay to kill cats in horror movies while executing dogs are verboten?

Night Swim (United States, 2024)

Director: Bryce McGuire
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amelie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren
Screenplay: Bryce McGuire
Cinematography: Charlie Sarroff
Music: Mark Korven
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2024-01-05
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Disturbing Images, Violence)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1