Bryce McGuire’s horror film about a haunted swimming pool proves to be a disappointing start for 2024 horror. Here’s our review of Night Swim.
There’s a lot of great horror films heading to our screens this year. We’re particularly excited about Alien: Romulus, Nosferatu and Saw XI, but there’s also lots of buzz for A Quiet Place: Day One and a sequel to 2022’s Smile. We’re really hoping Ti West’s MaXxXine will also gain a release date soon.
Kicking off the hopefully terrific year of terror is Bryce McGuire’s Night Swim. McGuire is adapting his own short film of the same name here, with mixed results. The aim is to make us afraid of swimming pools, much like Jaws made us afraid to swim in open water, but the film’s basic premise itself packs very little punch.
The film follows the Waller family. Dad Ray (Wyatt Russell) is a former baseball player, now coming to terms with a devastating diagnosis of MS while his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) does everything she can to help her husband move on from his dream career. Together, they move their two kids Izzy and Elliott (Amélie Hoeferle and Gavin Warren) into a brand new home with a pool in the backyard, which will hopefully help with Ray’s condition.
Remarkably, Ray improves within days of moving in and swimming in the pool as instructed by his care team. However, Eve and the kids quickly become scared of the pool after some supernatural encounters. What lurks under the surface in this suburban paradise?
There’s surprisingly much to work with here. McGuire hints at some pretty juicy themes (suburbia, Ray’s condition) but unfortunately, the film never cashes in on those. Instead, we get a film where every single horror cliche is thrown at the screen in the hope one of them sticks. Some do, most don’t.
Perhaps the worst sin Night Swim commits is that it’s never scary. I’m a big fan of jump scares and the film counts James Wan as a producer, but not a single jump scare in Night Swim made me feel anything. I’m not hugely bothered if I can see a jump scare coming, as long as it’s expertly crafted, but all the jolts in McGuire’s film feel like deflated balloons. The film is a total bore, a flaccid attempt to conjure up something remotely frightening without acknowledging just how silly it all is.
There’s something eternally terrifying about a haunted house, but a haunted swimming pool just seems a little laughable. McGuire fails to make the pool feel thoroughly threatening. There’s appropriate amounts of dark ooze and smoke, but we’re not immediately scared when a character goes for a swim; we’re not biting our nails, waiting for something to strike.
To its credit, Night Swim does have a capable cast. Wyatt Russell seems right at home as an ex-sports star whose body is failing him, and Kerry Condon of The Banshees Of Inisherin fame makes for a sympathetic wife, but McGuire fails to decide whose story this really is. Ray’s narrative is far more interesting and challenging, but McGuire constantly chooses the safe option and often diverts to frame the story through Eve’s eyes just as we’re about to gain some insight into Ray.
As already mentioned, McGuire developed Night Swim from his short film. The short, which can be found on Youtube, is atmospheric and devilishly simple, but undeniably effective. The feature version stretches the simple idea – what if swimming alone in a pool at night was scary – to the breaking point and ends up tying itself in knots trying to explain everything to the audience, at all times. Most of the dialogue is saturated with heavy exposition and unfortunately, Night Swim seems to constantly talk down to us.
It’s a shame, because there truly is a lot of potential here. With more effective scares and a tighter focus, Night Swim could have been a really fun thrill ride. Instead, we still feel pretty good about swimming pools.
Night Swim is in UK cinemas 5th January