Running Time: 98 mins
UK Distributor: Universal Pictures
UK Release Date: 5 January 2024
WHO’S IN NIGHT SWIM?
Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Nancy Lenehan, Jodi Long, Rahnuma Panthaky, Eddie Martinez, Elijah J. Roberts
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Bryce McGuire (director, writer), Jason Blum and James Wan (producers), Mark Korven (composer), Charlie Sarroff (cinematographer), Jeff McEvoy (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A terrifying presence haunts the swimming pool of a family’s new home…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON NIGHT SWIM?
Last January, producers Jason Blum and James Wan bucked the trend of rubbish start-of-the-year horror movies with M3GAN, a film that went all-out with its campy, Paul Verhoeven-esque blend of comedic social commentary and goofy sci-fi horror, and became an instant hit with critics and audiences, with a sequel now in active development.
It’s sad, then, that almost exactly one year later, the same producers cannot seem to continue the tradition with Night Swim, a horror that certainly carries an eye-opening premise as M3GAN did, but with very little of the overall entertainment that turned it into a mini-phenomenon.
The film, directed and written by Bryce McGuire – who adapts the short film of the same name that he co-created with Rod Blackhurst – begins as the Waller family, including former baseball star Ray (Wyatt Russell), his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) and their kids Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren), move into a new house, which comes with a barely used swimming pool in their garden. With Ray suffering from a degenerative illness, the family reckons some water therapy will help him, and sure enough he soon begins regaining his strength after spending time in the pool. Unbeknownst to them, however, there’s something rather sinister lurking underneath the water, and it quickly takes hold of Ray as he and his family bear horrifying witness to the supernatural being and its devilish desires.
I’ll say this about Night Swim, it’s certainly got an interesting concept on its hands. There’s a lot of potential with its haunted swimming pool angle, with opportunities galore to make water scary as much as something like Jaws did back in the day, not to mention the carnage that could ensue if multiple users of said pool fall victim to the terrifying entity underneath their floating bodies. Unfortunately, this is a film that feels very restrained from reaching its full potential, largely because of its lack of gore (don’t let the 15 certificate fool you; this has been blatantly edited for a PG-13 in the US, which more or less equates to a 12A over here) and perhaps even its budgetary limitations that prevent it from getting too creative with some of its set-pieces. For instance, there is indeed a pool party scene where most attendees are in the pool that by this point is known for luring in its prey, but what ends up happening is as disappointingly tame as everything else in the film. It’s possible that McGuire wanted to explore the concept more but couldn’t because of the tight budget imposed on him by producers Blum and Wan, but even under such limitations he can’t quite amp up the suspense since it never feels like there are any true stakes at play.
Much of the film ends up being a somewhat by-the-numbers supernatural horror, which hits many of the familiar beats such as apparitions of creepy children, main characters getting possessed, and even the family pet meeting an unfortunate end very early on (the latter being a horror trope I’m not that fond of anyway, something that even Eli Roth managed to subvert in Thanksgiving). It more or less goes in exactly the kind of direction you’d think a watered-down (no pun intended) horror movie like this would go, with characters that aren’t terribly written, and certainly not badly performed, but are not especially memorable or interesting either. I’ll admit, this does make it a bit tedious to sit through as you’re watching a story that isn’t going as far as it could or even should go, featuring characters that you don’t care a great deal for, especially when some of them do some pretty dumb things just to make the climax happen.
It’s not particularly scary either, as it tends to get repetitive with some of its set-pieces, particularly those set in or around the haunted swimming pool. There’s only so many times we can see a character be suddenly yanked underwater by an unseen force, and by the third or fourth time it does that, the effect has largely worn off because you can see it coming from several depths away. Occasionally, there will be a creepy shot – shout out to cinematographer Charlie Sarroff, who does find one or two effective ways of making this pool feel threatening when it needs to be – but more often than not, it’s accompanied by a loud musical stinger that takes you right out of the atmospheric mood it wants you to feel at that moment. Even during the final act, when certain new details are revealed and particular cast members are let completely loose, there isn’t that much menace to them as it’s easy to predict what’s going to happen, rendering their intimidation fruitless.
Anyone expecting Night Swim to be this year’s M3GAN is most certainly not going to get that here, for it is too streamlined and rather bland to stay afloat, despite the notable efforts made to prevent it from sinking too far into the deep end.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Night Swim is an unfortunately bland horror that struggles to stay afloat with its lack of meaningful scares, interesting characters or even a compelling story, which prevent its eye-catching premise from reaching its full potential.