Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Night Swim’ is a Suburban Nightmare with a Twist


Director: Bryce McGuire
Writers: Bryce McGuire, Rod Blackhurst
Stars: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amelie Hoeferle

Synopsis: A family moves into a new home, unaware that a dark secret from the house’s past will unleash a malevolent force in the backyard pool..


There’s something cathartic about films like Night Swim, the audience member comes out of the movie theater feeling slightly disappointed but not holding grudges against the filmmaker who stole their money. Watching Night Swim in the movie theater was the kind of late-night activity practiced to get the mind off things, such as debt and unpaid bills. It served its purpose. It entertained me and gave me 98 minutes of airhead horror; a favorite genre of mine, where horrific things happen on screen as the plot and the writing don’t necessarily enrich the visuals, the cinematography, and the buildup, the pacing is decent and camerawork is stunning.

Proper introductions first; Night Swim is a horror film released in January 2024, directed and written by Bryce McGuire, and produced by the ever-polarizing James Wan and Jason Blum.

Ray (Wyatt Russell) –a baseball player- and his wife Eve ( Kerry Condon) and their two forgettable children move into a new home with a spacious swimming pool after Ray’s MS diagnosis. They soon discover that the swimming pool, which originated from an underground spring, had previously been the scene of sinister events. In all truth, the swimming pool sans the sinister events parts could have been a source of joy to any average house buyer, but for the doomed Waller family, things went downhill from here as they learned that for the spring to function, human sacrifices should be made *shudders*.

Night Swim is a film about the fear of the familiar. How bad can a swimming pool in your backyard be? What kind of danger can you expect from it? Fear of drowning, even if someone is a spectacular swimmer *coughNayadcough* and knows their way around the deepest, darkest bodies of water? Water is a source of a myriad of fears, from hurricanes and flooding to a simple apartment complex submerged in dark water while Jennifer Connelly frantically tries to save her daughter.

Despite too many buildup scenes that lead to nothing and the supposedly frightening but laughable CGI creatures, the movie creates a harrowing presence of a house with a swimming pool –every middle-class family’s dream. There’s something poetic and eerie about Night Swim. It plays a lot on the internal fears of normalcy and domesticity. All this could have been forgiven, however, if not for the major disappointment.  McGuire could have taken the film in a completely different direction if she focused on what water meant to an ailing body, that of Ray’s. 

As a viewer, he was the more interesting character, the one with a disabling neurological disease who had to come to terms with his illness as well as a dying career. He was the one with the intense connection to the pool. I didn’t see any reasoning –or an interesting enough storyline- to shift the narrative so that the boring wife gets all the potential and the credit. The script didn’t spend enough time making her interesting, and suddenly by shifting the main narrative to include her character arc, rather than her husband’s, the whole movie fell short of what it initially (at least for me) promised; a tale about a man with a disabling disease coming to terms with his diagnosis, the loss of his career and dreams, but also the water that calls out to him, and a house haunting. The film would’ve been male-centric of course, but if the screenwriters wanted viewers to root for the wife character or have any interest in her, at least give her something to chew. Let the body horror/pool horror part revolve around her instead of giving her too much to do with too little.

So what is the takeaway of Night Swim? Not the graphics, nor the characters to care about, not the plot or the climax scenes, but the fact that horror suburbia is a spectacular genre that needs to be re-explored and tackled.

Night Swim was a decent PG-13 suburban horror movie about the fear of the familiar, but also about the beauty of these massive bodies of water, and what secrets and mysteries they can hold for us.

Grade: C+

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