Film reviews and more since 2009

Night Swim (2024) review

Dir. Bryce McGuire

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Night Swim begins with an eerie prologue that finds a young girl venturing into her backyard pool to retrieve a toy boat. Something is amiss with this pool, as it looks more like an abyss the deeper the little girl descends. She starts to drown, she panics, and then she goes missing.

Cut to years later, when the home with said pool is purchased by Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) and his wife, Eve (Kerry Condon). Ray is a baseball player nursing a career-threatening injury, and they take to the home as a place where they can raise their two children, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren). The giddy realtor (Nancy Lenehan) fails to inform them that the now-dirty, leaf-ridden pool is responsible for several children going missing over the course of decades. Surely that won’t result in a sale nor commission.

In effort to get back on the ballfield, Ray starts doing some water therapy in the pool. In relatively no time, the symptoms of his condition begin to lessen. However, Eve is suspicious of the pool; both Elliot and Izzy experience their own unexplainable circumstances too. Something just isn’t as it seems with this body of water, and eventually, Ray becomes dependent, even obsessed, with its alleged healing powers.

Night Swim arrives in theaters draped in red flags. It’s a PG-13 horror film released on the first weekend of a brand new year. It’s not up to the level of M3GAN, last year’s creepy kickoff to a new moviegoing year, but it also beats another Insidious sequel. The film is the directorial debut of Bryce McGuire, who, alongside Rod Blackhurst (who shares a story credit with McGuire), made a five-minute short film of the same name in 2014. McGuire’s feature adaptation of this “ghoul-in-a-pool” story has long been in the works; long enough that one would’ve hoped a deeper, clearer meaning to the haunting would’ve surfaced.

The problem with Night Swim does not lie in the aesthetic department. The film is gorgeously atmospheric, thanks to cinematographer Charlie Sarroff, who nails the underwater sequences with both visual clarity and an ominous sense of unease. The rhythms of Mark Korven’s score even allow for some truly effective jump-scares. McGuire is patient enough to let everybody’s run-ins with the pool breathe, whether it’s Elliot, who spends an afternoon diving for loose change thrown at the bottom of the pool, or Izzy, whose game of Marco Polo with her sorta-boyfriend nearly turns deadly.

The problem with Night Swim is a lack of concretion. The themes of healing at the expense of sacrifice don’t find themselves adequately developed, least of all with a climax that underwhelms in the face of greater possibilities. One of the film’s most unnerving sequences involves Jodi Long, who owned the home prior to the Waller family, and her extended scene suggests greater significance. There is a missed narrative opportunity that could’ve resulted in her character having a role in the ending that would’ve proved satisfying on all levels. Instead, however, the film is rendered slightly soggy and disappointing thanks to a more linear conclusion.

One aspect of Night Swim I appreciated was the development of the Waller family. It’s quietly refreshing to find a film where everyone in the family likes one another. There is no sibling rivalry between Izzy and Elliot, save for Izzy threatening to put a Tide pod in Elliot’s fish tank should he rat on her for having her friend over. Russell and Condon turn are both likable and are rendered a believable couple. But with how much time Night Swim had to bake before seeing its big release, you’re left with the feeling this story should’ve been as clear as a chlorine pool.

NOTE: Night Swim is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Gavin Warren, Amélie Hoeferle, Nancy Lenehan, Jodi Long, Rahnuma Panthaky, Eddie Martinez, and Elijah J. Roberts. Directed by: Bryce McGuire.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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