Night Swim movie poster

Night Swim

In theaters January 5, 2024

98 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , ,

Releasing the first horror movie of the year comes with a fair amount of expectations. It sets the tone, not only for the company but for the year in Horror. 2023 saw M3GAN, which was smart, funny, and had more than its share of chills. In 2022, It was Scream. Night Swim (2023) holds no such promise.

Ray (Wyatt Russell) had a stellar professional baseball career until he was permanently benched by a chronic illness. Now resigned to being a stay-at-home dad to outgoing Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and wallflower Elliot (Gavin Warren), he grieves for his future and lost time with his family. While house-hunting with his wife Eve (Kerry Condon), they stumble upon a much too large house (that Eve will ultimately have to maintain) with a dilapidated pool that hasn’t seen use in decades. It’s a death trap the whole family can enjoy.

Much like the trope “Relationship Broken, Add Baby”, adding a whole house with a working mom who is also in school seems like an added strain on a family already grappling with a debilitating condition and depression, but who passes up a price like that in this economy? After learning interesting facts about the spring-fed pool, Ray predictably sets into motion mysterious disappearances and his wife and children experience a menacing presence. As Ray becomes stronger from the waters of the supernatural pool, he and Pool (I call it Pool) morph into a tandem terror that’s a threat to his loved ones. “Love requires sacrifice”, but in this case, it also requires some sort of linear logic that’s set aside for mild jump scares, drawn-out reactions, and utter abandonment of the plot.

Stuff doesn’t only happen at night, for example, and you’ll have all sorts of questions when you meet Mrs. Kay Snow (Jodi Long).

There’s some fairytale folklore in lieu of an explanation gingerly sprinkled in the third act that feels like the outré to a franchise, but it was treated like a throwaway explanation, tossed almost too fast to be caught.

Night Swim is a mere 98 minutes long, but it feels padded. There are plenty of characters and it certainly doesn’t skimp on the dialogue, but there isn’t enough story to make it memorable and there aren’t nearly enough supernatural beats to make it scary. There is more dysfunction than dread and the atmosphere from beginning to end is uncomfortable, but not for the reasons director Bryce McQuire wanted. If you’ve ever been forced onto a family vacation knowing that your parents were getting a divorce as soon as you got back, Night Swim feels a lot like that.

There are other unresolved issues that I don’t think have anything to do with the pool, like Ray’s strained relationship with his son, which can easily be blamed on Ray and his chase for glory or Mrs. Snow’s reaction to telling her story, which kicks dirt in the face of the premise. The bottomless fathoms of Pool containing multitudes, again, setting up future installments with all of the subtleness of a Speedo at the beach, lacks teeth. This is the Wan way, and with the merger of Blumhouse and Atomic Monster, we can expect more chum-churning terror while they work on more prestigious features.

Kudos to Gavin Warren who was able to project with his entire small being the isolation and longing for his father’s recognition. From being upstaged at his own little league practice to Ray playing with another boy as if he were his own son, the Gavin/Ray dynamic was potentially its own movie to be explored. Sadly, it was a plotline that was teased and left dangling before being abandoned.

Night Swim is based on Bryce McGuire and Rod Blackhurst’s 2014 short film by the same name (https://youtu.be/R5mPELbWVDk), which packs as much punch into three minutes and thirty seconds as a micro-film can. The feature is, at best, for younger kids looking for something stronger than Goosebumps and for canoodling adults settling in for an evening of Netflix and chill. It doesn’t require much of your attention, and if you find something more interesting to do, you’re not missing much.

Night Swim (2024) is rated PG-13 for swears, drowning, sticking arms in stupid places, blood, oozing cuts, pet disappearances, and that crushing despair that comes from a father’s misplaced affection.

Night Swim is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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