Night Swim Is Content to Flounder in the Shallow End

I’m a big fan of haunted house movies. If there’s a malevolent spirit tormenting a group of unsuspecting victims, I’ll always be down to see it, so naturally, when I first heard about Night Swim, I was immediately intrigued. Not only did this film look like it would offer a fun haunted house experience, but it also promised a unique spin on this time-honored subgenre. That combination was more than enough to grab my attention, so I bought a ticket as soon as I could, and I anxiously looked forward to the day when I’d finally be able to see it.

Night Swim was written and directed by Bryce McGuire, and it stars Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren. In the movie, Ray Waller is a professional baseball player on the mend, and he and his family are looking to find a new home where he can recover in peace. They eventually decide on a house that seems perfect for them, but as you can probably guess, their choice comes with an unexpected dark side.

The place has a pool, and at first, the family loves it. In particular, Ray swims in it multiple times a day, and his condition improves at an unprecedented pace. However, soon enough, his wife and kids start to experience some creepy phenomena in the pool, and they quickly learn that the water is haunted by a malevolent entity that seems intent on sending them to a watery grave.

On paper, that sounds like a great premise for a horror film. As I said, this is a haunted house movie with a unique twist, but unfortunately, the execution just isn’t up to par. Let’s start with the human drama. The acting in Night Swim is actually pretty good, so I didn’t have any trouble buying into the Wallers. Right from the get-go, they all feel like real people going through real experiences, so when the film started, I thought I was going to like it.

2 teenagers in a car

But as the movie goes on, it tries to introduce some thematically juicy character arcs, and they simply don’t work. In particular, the story seems to be about Ray’s choice between spending quality time with his family or trying to get back into baseball shape, but that idea is severely underdeveloped.

Night Swim does little more than briefly touch on it a few times here and there, so it never feels like an organic part of the narrative. In fact, I’m almost tempted to think that writer/director Bryce McGuire shoehorned this theme in after finishing the script, so even though I was able to buy into the characters, I never bought into their family drama.

That being said, I don’t need my horror movies to tell great stories. Sure, I prefer it when they do, but as long as I get some good scares, I can walk away a happy man. But unfortunately, Night Swim flounders on that count as well. This film is chock-full of the typical scares we normally expect from mainstream studio horror, and while I’m often a fan of that stuff, it just has a very “been there, done that” feel in this movie.

To be fair, the film does have its moments. For example, there are a few scenes where Bryce McGuire uses lighting, cinematography, and music to create an effectively creepy atmosphere, and there’s even one shot that I thought was genuinely fantastic. It involves one of the characters standing in darkness, and it’s very reminiscent of the classic scene in Nosferatu where Count Orlok is standing in the doorway of Hutter’s room.

But other than the handful of highlights, the horror in Night Swim is just super generic. Most notably, the third act feels like cliche after cliche, right down to the scene where one of the Wallers tracks down the previous owner of the house and learns all about the mythology behind the evil water.

The Wallers fixing up their pool

On top of all that, the third act of this movie also has some really bad CGI that completely kills any effectiveness the horror might’ve had. There are a few times when we get to see the entity haunting the Wallers’ pool, and truth be told, the first couple of glimpses aren’t bad. As long as we don’t get a good look at this thing, it’s actually pretty creepy.

However, when Night Swim finally pulls back the curtain and lets us see the entity straight on, it’s almost laughable. Seriously, this is one of the least scary-looking horror villains I’ve seen in a while, so once I got a good look at it, I couldn’t really take it seriously anymore.

Along similar lines, there are also a few moments when one of the Wallers falls under the influence of this entity, and the film uses more bad CGI to visualize the way that control affects the person. And once again, those weak visual effects just sap the horror of any impact it might’ve had, so if you’re looking for fun scares, you’re simply not going to find them here.

Suffice it to say, Night Swim was not the way I wanted to kick off 2024. Granted, it has its moments, so it’s not a total waste of time, but unless you’re a completist who needs to see everything, you don’t need to spend your hard-earned money on this movie. The weak story and ineffective horror make it aggressively mediocre at best, so if you’re looking for something good to watch, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Night Swim hit theaters on January 5.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A sign that says "obey"

Five John Carpenter Movies That Aren’t Halloween or The Thing

Promo image for The Grevas Report

The Problem With Wrestling Media & Social Media