Like Lights Out, Mama, and Smile, Night Swim is based on a popular short film that got the attention of big-time producers who decided to bank an expanded feature version. Director Bryce McGuire got his break when Jason Blum (M3GAN) and James Wan (The Conjuring) decided to wade into this sinister swimming pool and helped attract two major leads—Wyatt Russell (The Woman in the Window, “Black Mirror”) as Ray Waller, a lauded major league baseball player forced into early retirement by Multiple Sclerosis, and Oscar® nominee Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin), as his loving wife. Ray and Eve have two kids: an outgoing teenage daughter, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle), and a shy young son, Elliot (Gavin Warren).
MS is a degenerative disease that demands low-impact physical therapy, so the Wallers decide to buy a house with a swimming pool. Thanks to mounting medical expenses, all they can afford is a fixer-upper, but they do find one with a unique pool that’s fed by an ancient underground stream. Once they get it cleaned up, they fill it up, and the mayhem begins. Okay, no it doesn’t… despite an attention-grabbing cold open set 30 years ago when a little girl went missing after an evening dip in the same pool, not much happens to the present-day family until about halfway through the movie.
While we wait for the water to get wicked, we sit through scenes of the family moving in, Ray going to the doctor, Elliot trying to play baseball like his dad, Eve struggling with bills, and Izzy crushing on a boy at school. While I appreciate character development as much as the next schmoe, a lot of it feels like filler, either due to budget constraints or a too-thin plot. Fortunately, the actors are all likable and play their parts well—but unfortunately, Night Swim is supposed to be a horror movie, not a family saga.
Night Swim may have benefited from some levity or humor but there’s little to be found—Ben Sinclair (“The Resort”) as a pool tech stands out in his lone scene and makes you wish he’d returned to help combat the evil forces at the end. When it comes to scares (yes, there are a few, though they’re mostly of the “jump” variety), the supernatural specters that lurk in the water are creepy-looking, but in the end, they’re just shadowy figures without any distinctive characteristics. Even though Night Swim is rated PG-13 and therefore cannot be a gore-fest, a smarter script would have worked wonders for the inherently intriguing premise. Worse, the “big reveal” happens far too late in the story to have much of an impact—by that time, we’ve all either guessed it or ceased caring.
Night Swim barely treads water in terms of suspense and scares, so although I didn’t hate it, I can’t recommend shelling out for a big-screen experience. If you’re a horror movie completist, it’ll be worth a watch whenever it makes it to streaming platforms.