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Night Swim Review: A Dive into Suburban Horror’s Murky Waters

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“Night Swim” plunges into the depths of the haunted-pool horror subgenre, a niche that has seen everything from the quirky to the downright bone-chilling. Bryce McGuire, in his feature debut, extends his 2014 short film into a full-length venture, ambitiously seeking to revitalize a premise that might seem confined by its very nature. The film, produced under the blended banner of Blumhouse and Atomic Monster, wades through the familiar territory of suburban horror, attempting to stir the still waters with a fresh narrative whirlpool.

At its heart, “Night Swim” is a tale of the Waller family, led by Ray, a former baseball star grappling with multiple sclerosis, and Eve, his supportive yet increasingly concerned wife. They, along with their two children, move into a seemingly idyllic home, complete with a backyard pool that quickly becomes the center of their spiraling nightmare. This setting, a commonplace suburban pool, is where McGuire attempts to craft his terror, drawing a direct comparison to the process of genre filmmaking itself – a common structure that allows for, and at times demands, innovation within its constraints.

McGuire’s direction and Charlie Sarroff’s cinematography work in tandem to elevate the pool from a mere family retreat to a character of its own. The water becomes a lens through which reality distorts, reflecting and refracting fears and phantoms. The film shines in its moments of visual creativity, particularly when it embraces its aquatic setting to deliver shivers. Rippling effects, refracted light, and submerged perspectives are employed to full effect, creating a sense of claustrophobic dread that is the hallmark of good horror.

Yet, where “Night Swim” endeavors to dive deep, it often finds itself treading water. The film relies heavily on genre tropes, echoing the ghosts of “The Amityville Horror,” “Poltergeist,” and even the aquatic terror of “Jaws.” This homage to horror classics is double-edged, providing a familiar framework for audiences but often failing to break the surface with genuinely new frights. The narrative occasionally lapses into the predictable, with the haunted pool premise struggling to sustain tension throughout the film’s duration. Where it could have been a tightly wound narrative, it sometimes feels like a series of disconnected set pieces, each a variation on the last, struggling to maintain a consistent stroke.

Character development is another area where “Night Swim” both sinks and swims. Wyatt Russell’s portrayal of Ray is commendable, capturing the frustration and fear of a man watching his body betray him. Kerry Condon as Eve brings a necessary emotional anchor to the film, her performance grounding the sometimes floaty narrative. However, their chemistry often seems as murky as the pool’s haunted waters, lacking the spark necessary to engage the audience with their plight fully. The children, while competent in their roles, are given little room to break from the archetypal kids-in-peril, their characters not fully fleshed out beyond their immediate reactions to the unfolding horror.

Where “Night Swim” does break the mold is in its attempt to infuse a family drama within its horror framework. The personal struggles of the Waller family, particularly Ray’s battle with his illness and the family’s collective adjustment to a new and unsettling environment, provide a poignant undercurrent to the supernatural elements. This blend of personal and paranormal is where the film finds its most compelling moments, though these are sometimes lost in the larger waves of standard genre fare.

“Night Swim” is a film that showcases the potential of its director and the enduring appeal of the horror genre’s more niche corners. It’s a murky swim through familiar waters, punctuated by moments of genuine creativity and terror. It’s a reminder that even the most well-trodden paths can lead to unexpected places, though the journey there may be fraught with familiar terrors.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5.0

Night Swim will be playing in theaters on January 5th, 2024.

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1 Response

  1. antwon distinctio says:

    sucked hard

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