‘Night Swim’ Review — This Blumhouse Horror Is a Wash

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Night Swim
    disappoints as a feature-length film, prioritizing family drama over horror, resulting in a lack of scares and excitement.
  • The film’s concept of a haunted pool is intriguing, but the execution falls short with unoriginal monster designs and a weak attempt at building lore.
  • The film’s greatest strength lies in its moments of water-related fear and disorientation, emphasizing that the less we see, the more terrifying it becomes.


In 2014, directors Bryce McGuire and Rod Blackhurst gave us a modest (clocking in at just three minutes) short film that sees a woman tormented by paranormal beings while swimming in her backyard pool. Not a lot happens, but it’s still an effectively frightening short, full of shadow play, distorted views, and the seemingly endless abyss of water. Like Skinamarink that would follow years later, 2014’s Night Swim capitalized on a childhood irrational fear that many have shared. Is there something lying at the bottom of the pool, waiting for us to dive deeper so it can grab our leg and drag us down with them? It makes absolutely no sense, but when do fears ever play into our rationality?


Water is terrifying, from the fact you can drown in less than two inches to gigantic Great White sharks that make for Hollywood superstar villains. And then there is the whole Lovecraftian side of things, water being a portal to another world, the great unknown waiting for us. So, any body of water, even something as seemingly innocuous as the common suburban pool, is the perfect setup for a horror movie. But did Night Swim’s effect translate to a feature film with McGuire and Blumhouse at the helm? Nope!


Night Swim

Feature length version of the 2014 short film about a woman swimming in her pool at night terrorized by an evil spirit.

Release Date
January 5, 2024

Director
Bryce McGuire

Runtime
118 minutes

Writers
Rod Blackhurst , Bryce McGuire

Production Company
Atomic Monster, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures

Blumhouse has had an unfortunate recent string of releases that have failed to bring anything new to the horror genre or been effectively scary. Exorcist: Believer failed to please critics, franchise fans, and studio accountants alike. While Five Nights at Freddy’s was the highest-grossing horror movie of last year (an incredibly impressive feat due to its same-day release on Peacock), its plot and scares didn’t go beyond the basics of the games. While Blumhouse has given us some of the scariest and greatest horror titles over the years — Get Out, Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Hush, and Us, to name just a few — their post-COVID titles have not lived up to the heights established by their successes of the 2010s. Night Swim, for instance, is just another formulaic PG-13 flatliner that relies on hollow jump scares rather than a creepy atmosphere or any sort of innovation. What can be said for Night Swim is that it’s at least not Blumhouse’s worst 2024 release — that (dis)honor goes to last month’s Imaginary.



What Is ‘Night Swim’ About?

The first major horror release of 2024 follows the Waller family, which consists of Ray (Wyatt Russell), a former baseball star who is slowly losing his body to MS, a devoted but exhausted mother and wife, Eve (Kerry Condon), independent teenage daughter Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle), and shy son Elliot (Gavin Warren). After years of moving around for Ray’s sports career, they are ready to “lay down roots” somewhere and make a long-term home. After Ray’s doctor advises him that swimming and water therapy could help with his condition, they buy a fixer-upper with a backyard pool. But the enjoyment of the amenity is short-lived as each member grows more and more skeptical and fearful of the pool after a series of terrifying incidents, from swimmers seeing someone on the edge and then disappearing to Izzy getting dragged down by a mystery entity. That is, except for Ray. He gets his hand cut in the drain and inexplicably starts to gain back his strength, giving way to his obsession not only with himself and his body but the pool too.


Like so many mainstream horror movies, this film tries to try to “elevate” its horror by having it intersect with a melodramatic tale of a family in crisis. Sometimes this can work like when the grief of the Harper family that drove last year’s The Boogeyman proved to be much more compelling than any of the out-and-out horror sequences. It undoubtedly works to make you root for the characters and raise the stakes, but if there isn’t enough horror to go along with it, it’s really hard to care about these domestic challenges. Five Nights at Freddy’s, a fellow Blumhouse joint, is another example — spend less time with Josh Hutcherson and his little sister and more time with these creepy ass bears! Night Swim spends most of its runtime trying to make you care about each family member’s struggles, particularly Ray’s. There’s a Shakespearean aspect to it, a man’s feat for eternal glory is his ultimate downfall. But this is not a Shakespeare play — it’s a horror about a killer pool. Act like it!


‘Night Swim’ Has Too Much Drama and Not Enough Horror

Image via Universal Pictures

This isn’t to say that the whole family’s backstory should have been cut. But the film neglects its horror aspects, offering cheap and derivative monster designs, the usual fake-out scares, and a pathetic attempt at lore. No stakes, no real sense of danger, and no fun. The only thing that might rival the ridiculousness of a killer pool is a killer doll, and after watching Night Swim you can appreciate M3GAN a lot more. It leans into the campiness of it all, it blends its family trauma story with the scariness of the situation, and it’s just a horrifyingly fun time! Night Swim, on the other hand, is trying to make a Revolutionary Road-esque domestic drama but instead of the crippling oppression of 1950s suburban Americans… it’s a haunted pool that’s the villain here.


Related

Wyatt Russell Warns You to Stay Out of the Pool in ‘Night Swim’ Sneak Peek

Kerry Condon also stars in this family nightmare.

A massive turning point in any horror movie is usually when the characters find out that their situation has happened before. We learn some of the lore, get introduced to new characters, and finally gain some answers. Night Swim bottles this trope by showing us around 10 seconds of Eve searching the web, a few creepy images, and ominous headlines here and there. Moments like these really sum up the film. They’re particularly frustrating because we had to sit through almost ten minutes of baseball that could have just as effectively served the story if it were three minutes long. Night Swim has its priorities way out of order.


On top of that, the dialogue is cringe-worthy, with Russell awkwardly delivering lines like “We have a pool!” with a salesman smile that probably set out to be ominous but just feels unintentionally uncomfortable. The family’s playful “banter” is just a series of quips like what you’d expect from the setup of a SNL skit. While the actual story is far from the worst of the genre, its execution through the characterization and dialogue is fumbled. It’s apparent from the get-go that Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon are painstakingly aware that their talents are being wasted here. While Condon does put in effort to tie the whole family together, her performance lacks any real sense of urgency. Russell is just doing his own thing and despite becoming the film’s pseudo-villain, he’s about as intimidating as an inflatable donut pool toy. The real star here is Hoeferle who gives an understated performance as Izzy. While she’s asked to play it cool for most scenes, she proves to be a scream queen in the making, with both her attack scenes being the film’s highlights.


‘Night Swim’ Should Have Used More Pool Horror

The film’s greatest strength, much like the original short, is the concept itself. McGuire’s direction does have moments to shine here, serving as a reminder of what could’ve been. Maybe if Blumhouse didn’t get their greedy hands on this, and another house like A24 beat them to it, we would have gotten Skinamarink: Pool Edition. There are scenes where the fear of water is expertly woven in — your view is distorted as your eyes are half in the water, half out. The disorienting blue abyss of water and the panic that sets in when you realize you don’t know which way is up and which is down. Figures standing at the edge of the pool who then disappear when you reach the surface. The bottom of the pool feels like it’s miles away and leads to a whole other world. In Night Swim, the less you see and the more that’s left to fill in with your imagination works better than the actual creatures. When we’re first confronted by one of these pool demons up close, all the fear and tension are thrown out, and you’re just left with a derivative monster design that looks like it came from a Goosebumps episode. This is why the short film works so well — just like when you’re underwater, the less you can see, the more terrifying everything is.


There’s a fun nod to Jaws, but instead of the dolly shot of Chief Brody, it’s Condon’s Eve cutting watermelon for a cookout. The plotline of the pool giving Ray strength somewhat cleverly plays on the idea that water is a place where we can do amazing things — somersaults, handstands, the lack of gravity giving us new-found athleticism. But then it’s also a place where our darkest nightmares feel the most real. There are so many ideas to mine and yet the film wastes every single one. The pool should have been the star here, not your run-of-the-mill white suburban family.

Night Swim is a missed opportunity of epic proportions, and it’s yet another in a streak of Blumhouse projects failing to bring anything new to the horror genre. Formulaic, lacking in scares, but accessible to as wide an audience as possible with a PG-13 rating; this is the horror house’s new MO, and unfortunately, it’s working moneywise. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a stark reminder that audiences and box office don’t always agree. This will probably be the same for Night Swim, a film that could have gone to new depths and explored a universal irrational fear with nuance but instead decided to stay in the safety of the kiddie pool.


Night Swim Film Poster

Night Swim

REVIEW

Night Swim, as has become the case for Blumhouse, is never all that scary despite its terrifying premise and a strong cast.

Pros

  • Amélie Hoeferle’s performance as Izzy proves she is a scream queen in the making
Cons

  • A general lack of scares and a formulaic approach
  • Poorly written dialogue that is more cringe than creepy
  • The lackluster monster designs and weak story

Night Swim is available to stream on Peacock in the U.S. starting April 5.

WATCH ON PEACOCK



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