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Night Swim: Film Review

Equipped with a generic storyline, poor CGI, and an overabundance of horror tropes, Night Swim is a mediocre swim in shallow waters.

Everyone can agree that the quality of films is a bit hit-and-miss in January, especially in the horror department. That said, some releases have done relatively well during the year’s opening month. In 2018, Insidious: The Last Key had groundbreaking success at the box office. Then, last year, humanoid M3GAN became an overnight phenomenon. Night Swim is the latest flick to occupy the horror space, based on Rod Blackhurst and director Bryce McGuire’s 2014 short of the same name. Though produced by horror aficionados Jason Blum and James Wan, its haunted pool premise fails to make a splash in a genre filled with similar stories.

Ray (Wyatt Russell), a retired professional baseball player, had to end his career due to an MS diagnosis. He, his wife, Eve (Kerry Condon), and their two kids, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren), move to their dream home. The house has a large backyard with a swimming pool, which hasn’t been used for years. After the Waller family restores the pool, they begin to experience strange occurrences whenever they use it.

Night Swim has an intriguing concept, but the film falters due to an uninspired screenplay lacking a unique backstory, memorable creature design, and its inability to build suspense and tension throughout its runtime. Night Swim’s opening scene creates a sense of mystery through clever camera work and well-shot pool scenes. However, after a promising introduction, the film takes a significant dive in quality. Viewers spend three-quarters of the film watching the Waller family swim in their newly renovated pool, albeit during daylight hours. This is an odd choice given the film’s title and immediately diminishes Night Swim’s scare factor. Besides, a pool party in broad daylight doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of an immediate threat in the vicinity.

Surprisingly, Night Swim has a decent amount of character development, and the drama side of the story works better than the horror elements. Ray’s disease has severely impacted his day-to-day life. Eve works in the town’s local high school administration office to help make ends meet while studying for a degree in social work. Viewers can empathize with Ray, who had to give up his career and adjust to limitations in mobility after the diagnosis. However, the audience’s sympathy slowly slips away as the characters continue to make silly decisions and venture into the pool despite numerous signs of a paranormal presence lurking in the water. Russell delivers a decent enough performance, although it becomes somewhat cartoonish during the film’s climax. Condon makes the most of the material and showcases her acting abilities despite a weak script and being cast as a stereotypical suburban horror mother. 

wyatt russell in the swimming pool in the film Night Swim
Wyatt Russell as Ray Waller in Night Swim, directed by Bryce McGuire. (© 2023 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Night Swim’s “scares,” if you can even call them, work best when executed through a less is more approach. However, it’s not long before the feature moves into predictable jump-scare territory, with poor CGI and amateur-looking creatures that are more amusing than frightening. In fact, one of the entities resembles a burnt Pillsbury Doughboy more than a fearsome monster. It’s a shame that Night Swim neglected to use practical effects instead of generic, halfhearted monster designs, as the former would have been more effective underwater. Similarly, the lore behind the entities feels like an afterthought, revealed in a rushed and foreseen third act. 

Despite some well-utilized cinematography, Night Swim is an uninventive, predictable film that fails to live up to the promising premise of the short story it is based upon. The feature could have taken many unique and creative directions but ultimately settled on ineffective, overused horror tropes, bad CGI, and cheap thrills. 

Night Swim is now available to watch globally in theaters.

Night Swim: Trailer (Universal)
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