It’s January of a new year, and what that means for studios is that they like to release the last of their award-friendly films before the Oscars, and then there are the cast-off films that the studios release with few to no expectations. I felt this was the perfect time for a studio to release something of quality, because there’s literally no competition at the box office, but that might be what Universal is trying to do with their new release Night Swim. For horror fans, this title is one to be cautiously excited over, because it is the beginning of a partnership between Jason Blum and James Wan. The pair have united to release several horror projects in the near future. Night Swim was initially picked up as a feature after the success of the short film with the same title was released back in 2014 from directors Rod Blackhurst and Bryce McGuire. Now ten years later Bryce McGuire dives back in to create a feature length project about a haunted pool in the suburbs in an attempt to scare the floaties off its audience, but does he succeed? You know the rules, folks; no viewing after eating unless you’ve waited thirty minutes, and absolutely no viewing without supervision unless there is a lifeguard on duty. Now with that said, grab your swim trunks and settle in; we are taking the plunge into Night Swim.
The cold open on this film is honestly the best part of the film. I’m not saying this as a slight, but instead I got a little excited about this film because I enjoyed the opening so much. It worked as its own mini-movie filled with some tension and a decent jump scare. It starts up with a little girl simply trying to retrieve a toy boat of the pool for her sick brother, and we helplessly watch as her good deed does not end well. I love this as an opening for a horror film, because it shows us this director isn’t afraid to take chances, and if they have no problem killing a kid in the opening, then ANYONE can be a victim.
The film jumps ahead many years later, and we meet the Waller family, who are looking for a new home. Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) is a former baseball player who has been forced to retire early due to his declining health. His wife Eve (Kerry Condon) is more than relieved he’s no longer going to be an athlete, and now they can settle down their family and begin their new chapter in life. When they come across the home with the pool, they see it as not just something for the kids to enjoy, but Ray can also use it for his physical therapy, so of course they scoop this property up. It doesn’t take long before the family discovers that the pool has some unique qualities, like it has the ability to heal, and it may or may not have a few ghouls splashing around and causing mischief when people decide to go for a swim on their own.
Maybe I’m talking crazy, but I feel this entire film is a giant metaphor for athletes and their addiction to “pain killers” and how it affects them and those around them. We see Ray casually using the pool for therapy, and when he sees the healing results, he starts using it more and starts getting a little reckless, and, well, bad things occur. The film does have a little bit of “truth” to it. The pool is set over a spring, and they use that water to fill it. Back in the early 1900’s there was an old scam at several spas across the US that would open its pools to people claiming their spring water had a healing quality to it. The film somewhat touches on this but unfortunately doesn’t explore it further, and that’s where this film loses its momentum and just becomes a mess in the third act.
The first 2/3 of this film I enjoyed. I’m not saying I felt it was great, but it was certainly a better film than I anticipated. But the moment this became a pool possession film, my suspension of disbelief just had to tap out. Russell and Condon elevate this film in many ways. When the film is more of a family drama, it works because Russell and Condon are believable in these roles … Even the supernatural stuff as we see it go after the family works mostly when the filmmaker keeps things simple, and surprisingly there are some good moments of tension. My biggest issue is the creature/evil ghost design. It just didn’t work for me, and it just looked too CGI. I mean, this is a movie about a haunted pool, and as an audience we’re supposed to fear for anyone that steps foot into the pool. It seems silly, but surprisingly, the filmmakers almost pulled this one off. This is one where less would have been more, and I feel they shouldn’t have tried to explain everything, especially since they waited until the third act to do this, and it just felt so rushed and didn’t feel organic at all.
I’ll admit I feel I liked this movie more than others in the audience, but it was better than I expected. It’s a movie about a haunted pool … seriously, how does anyone take this plot seriously and have high expectations? This was an absurd idea, but the filmmakers almost pulled this one off. There is plenty of room for a sequel and even prequels, and honestly if more time was spent filling in some of these gaps left open, this could have been a surprise hit. I doubt this movie will have any trouble recouping its budget, but this did leave me a tad underwhelmed when it comes to the pairing of Blum and Wan. Hopefully their future collaborations will make a bigger splash on the screen.