I will be the first to admit that even the best horror films have a shaky premise, but the new film Night Swim pushes it. Instead of a killer shark taunting an island, or a hotel driving a family man to murder we have Ray (Wyatt Russell) seduced by a swimming pool. Based on co-scribe Rod Blackhurst‘s 3-plus minute short film, we have a 90+ minute feature with the assistance of director and co-writer Bryce McGuire that plumbs the depths of a backyard pool for chilling horror. The bad news is that the pool is only 8 feet deep.
Having left his Major League Baseball career due to MS, Ray and his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) are shopping for homes at the beginning of the film. With kids, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren) at their sides, Ray and Eve go against their “New Home” checklist and choose to buy a house filled with stairs and a dilapidated pool. At this point in the film, I will give McGuire and Blackhurst props for nimbly navigating the roadblocks that would have stopped the movie dead in its tracks. After another check-up, Dr. Sridhar (Rahnuma Panthaky) suggests low-impact exercise for Ray. The family of four moves into the house and promptly makes the dormant pool usable again. The love affair between Ray and the pool begins.
At first, there are subtle hints that Ray is getting better after soaking in the pool. They soon become more apparent. There are a few moments that capture the in-the-moment perception and vulnerability of being in the water to good effect. Each member of the family has their own time in the pool and is attacked by either something just above the surface or something from the depths below. This is where the movie should have lingered. Instead, we are served formulaic scares complete with predictable audio stings. As Ray gets even better, his family becomes more terrified at the mounting mystery. What horrors are lurking in the family pool?
Pool Tech (Ben Sinclair) steals the entire film with his militant assessment of the spring-fed pool. It is here that the concept of aquatic horror is objectified with glib humor that makes it palatable. Yet the rest of the film has its sights set on playing things straight resulting in wobbly dialogue and story beats that make no sense.
Night Swim fails in trying to make the mundane scary. There was a good idea here that got shellacked with tried and true conventions. The good idea is the vulnerability of being in the water and the distorted perception and fears of being exposed. These ideas are toyed with and quickly abandoned in favor of supernatural developments and cinematic gimmicks. Such a shame.
You can tell that Blackhurst had a vibe with his original short film of the same name. Had they plumbed the mystery for murky terror this might have worked.