THE STORY – Forced into early retirement by a degenerative illness, former baseball player Ray Waller moves into a new house with his wife and two children. He hopes that the backyard swimming pool will be fun for the kids and provide physical therapy for himself. However, a dark secret from the home’s past soon unleashes a malevolent force that drags the family into the depths of inescapable terror.
THE CAST – Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Hoeferle & Gavin Warren
THE TEAM – Bryce McGuire (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
Water is inherently a terrifying thing. Seventy percent of the world is comprised of water, yet we know nothing of what could be in this uncharted territory. The fear of the unknown will always be greater than we know. However, that isn’t the case for Bryce McGuire’s “Night Swim,” which aims to explore the dangers of the water that could be in your very own backyard. Sure, terrifying isn’t the word that comes to mind when you think of a swimming pool, but McGuire attempts to turn his childhood phobia into a horror film that dares to challenge this idea. Unfortunately, not only does the film fail to do this, but it also forgets to be even a splash of entertainment.
“Night Swim” follows the Waller family, who are desperate to establish some normalcy in their rocky lives. Ray, the father (played by Wyatt Russell), is a Major League Baseball player struggling with his fading career. He’s failing to cope with the results of his recent MS diagnosis, which is impeding his return to the game he loves. His wife Eve (played by Kerry Condon) attempts to find stability to support her ailing husband and their two children. After a tumultuous house hunt, the Waller family together decides to plant roots and move to a house with everything a family could want. Soon, the family slowly discovers one of the best features of the house has a secret that comes with it. Let’s get this out of the way; yes, the concept for this film is ridiculous. It feels like it was out of a rejected episode of “Black Mirror.” “Night Swim” fails to take advantage of this absurdity and instead tries to play it so seriously that it is dead in the water from the very beginning. It almost seems as if McGuire can’t decide what tone the film should strike, and its flimsy attempts at humor while remaining deathly serious for most of its runtime clash against each other constantly. McGuire, who was inspired by the water-dominant Sunshine State of Florida (in which he grew up), never fully translates his deepest fears of what horrors water can transpire.
This inconsistency mentioned above can even be seen through Russell’s performance. It feels as if Russell is attempting to play up the hammy nature of the character’s arc, and towards the end, it works hilariously (not always intentionally so). For the most part, the character of Ray is an incredibly one-note, run-of-the-mill dad who’s been slogged down by a thinly veiled metaphor for addiction, all too common with horror films as of late. Although both lead actors attempt to make it work, Condon is the one who gets the most to do. For most of the movie, she’s relegated to a skeptical mother and wife whose cautious nature eventually leads to her cracking the mystery wide open. It isn’t until the third act that Condon somewhat gets her moment to shine. It’s still baffling that actors of their caliber signed on to a project that doesn’t value what they bring as performers.
It’s hard to pin all of Night Swim’s fault on the actors when the screenplay is filled with an overabundance of eye-rolling dialogue blandly delivered. The story is also as predictable as you’d expect as well. McGuire’s direction is fine, but it’s incredibly common with horror films filled with cheap jump scares and failed attempts at creating tension. Some of the water sequences are creatively captured but become repetitive as there are only so many ways to visualize a drowning in a killer pool. The best moments of Night Swim happen when the film plays into the absurdity it’s so desperately missing. There’s a scene with a pool tech (played by Ben Sinclair) who inspects the killer pool as the Waller family is fixing it up. The pool tech proceeds to give a standard monologue of the nature of water, which is intentionally delivered without a single ounce of severity. It lends to the screenplay displaying how it can make fun of itself and points out the laughable concept of the film and typic horror genre tropes as well. Then, “Night Swim” instantly abandons this fun vibe in exchange for a more monotonous experience.
The biggest failure of “Night Swim” isn’t that it’s a ridiculous premise; it’s that it never even delivers on it. For a film where the concept is that it’s about a pool that kills people, there’s barely any of it as it’s subdued by a PG-13 that holds back the film from having any real impact, especially with its deaths. When audiences go to see a “Halloween” film, no matter how good or bad, they know what they’re paying for. By the time audiences get to the end credits of this, they’ll likely forget most of what transpired before it. At the very least, it should have been a fun time to watch and have a laugh with friends, but instead, it’s just a chore to watch.