‘Night Swim’ Can’t Stay Afloat (Review)

Night Swim, a horror movie from director Bryce McGuire starring Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, and Amélie Hoeferle, is the newest release from Blumhouse and Atomic Monster. Based on a four-minute short film, the film is about when “everything you fear is under the surface.”

When a movie begins, and the production company logos pop up on the screen, a few immediately jump out at you, not only in terms of the stylization of the sequence they put together for it but also the expectations that come with their typical productions. Blumhouse, or BH for short, has a creepy and pretty extended introduction. It can usually be counted on for producing some upper-tier thriller and horror films each year, even if a few stinkers are mixed in with the great ones. To start the year, Blumhouse drops the new movie Night Swim into theatres during the cold and bleak moviegoing month of January, and it’s not a huge mystery why.

There’s no reason a film about a haunted pool shouldn’t be fun, but Night Swim is all business

Unlike some other recent horror films like Thanksgiving and even Talk To Me from last year, which fully embrace the fun side of the horror genre, even as they go about delivering their scares and still skew towards the serious. Night Swim is all business; check your fun at the door. The film achieves a moderate amount of success, creating a creepy atmosphere with its premise and pulling off a couple of jump scares. 

Meanwhile, the terrific Oscar-nominated actress Kerry Condon is working double time to sell us on the drama of it all in Night Swim. But in the end, when you boil it down, water pun not intended, there’s really no reason that a film about a haunted pool shouldn’t be fun. In the words of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, “Why so serious?“. With so much room for this film to inject some humor, creativity, and character into its story, the fact that it leaves you with such a bland, flatlined narrative is the main reason this Night Swim just can’t manage to stay afloat.

Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The story of Night Swim

[Note: There are spoilers ahead for the movie Night Swim.]

The film opens with a shot of the rear of a two-story suburban home at night, the onscreen text informing us that this is the summer of 1992. As the shot lingers, we begin to see water ripples run across the shot; what we’re seeing is a reflection, and as the shot starts to rotate around and pans up, the pool lights flicker on to give us a view of the home, illuminating it in a creepy iridescent blue hue. 

Mysteriously, a small red boat surfaces in the middle of the pool, and the battery-powered toy begins running and doing laps around the deep end, the noise of the little motor filling the backyard. We move to the upstairs of the home, where a little girl sleeps soundly in her bed. Her eyes open, and she walks to the window, where she sees the little toy cruising around in circles, beckoning her to come retrieve it. After slipping on the fluffiest bunny slippers ever, she walks down the hall to a room with a hospital-style bed and monitors set up; her sleeping brother (Joziah Lagonoy) lies in it, obviously very sick. 

Tommy, are you awake?” she whispers. “I saw your missing boat outside. Gonna get it for you.“, she continues telling the unmoving boy on the bed. She makes her way outside, down by the pool’s edge, the blue lights sending reflections across her face, but finds the boat has sunk to the bottom. After extending the pole on a pool skimming net and letting it down in the water, she slowly moves the boat closer to the edge. As she continues reaching out, we watch as her fluffy bunny slippers edge inch by inch up to and over the threshold of the concrete pool edge. I’m guessing you could make a pretty safe bet about what happens next. Without getting into the spoilers of this sequence, suffice it to say the bunny slippers aren’t waterproof.

Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon and family are on the hunt for a home and find one with a swimming pool

After the film’s title comes onscreen, we watch rain droplets pelter down on a windshield, the wipers pushing them off the car. Sitting in the passenger side of this vehicle in the rain is former baseball player Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell). As he looks out at his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) standing under an umbrella, she motions for him to come. As she does, the sides of the screen go blurry, and we hear a high-pitched, piercing noise; he squints his eyes closed as he tries to focus.

The screen stays blurry as his son Elliot (Gavin Warren) in a blue rain poncho, yells, “Dad, you ok?”. He responds, “Yeah,” but we continue to understand he’s dealing with some kind of head injury as we watch him retrieve a red metal cane out of the backseat. Ray joins his family inside; they’re walking a home that they’re looking at buying. The family walks the house, but the price is steep, so they continue to look, and the following day, after driving by a more moderately priced home, they arrange another walkthrough.

 As they tour, Eve speaks with the realtor about the home. It is a rental but is moderately priced, and as Eve looks out the back window, she sees Ray standing next to an unused, tarp-covered, leaf-filled pool. Eve comes out to join him, and they discuss the pool, but as she leaves and heads back inside, he spots something in the water. Setting his red cane down and kneeling along the side, he reaches out over the water to try and get something. Alas, he takes an impromptu swim and sinks to the bottom while struggling to get free of a tarp he’s gotten wrapped in, but don’t worry, folks, it’s way too early for anybody to die. 

Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The pool man gives an ominous warning about could be under the drain

Despite his near-death experience, they’ll take it. Soon, they’re unpacking, cleaning the pool, and getting it set up for use. A pool man (Ben Sinclair) is called out who gives them and us some exposition that this is a natural spring pool; it is connected to a spring that exists under this area, and in fact, he’s never seen a pool like this before in person. Also, it’s supposed to have some health benefits. This also means there’s no telling what’s underneath the drain at the bottom of the deep end. Insert scary ghost noises. 

But let me be serious with you here for just a moment. Once the swimming starts and creepy things start happening, at least during the night swims, I’m forced to ponder after how many times my pool scared the sh** out of me that I’d (A) find another house to rent or (B) stick to daytime swims only.

Night Swim starts to fall apart with its direction

The first thing that I’d mention when dissecting this film and what I can attribute the issues I have with it to is the direction from Bryce McGuire. The overly dramatic tone he’s striving for here is entirely unnecessary, given the actual plot of the film. The way he directs the screenplay that he’s adapted just doesn’t work well within the context of the narrative.

Maybe if Night Swim had wanted to be more serious about its scares, it could’ve veered further into the horror, gotten a little dirty, produced some kills, and spilled a little blood to loosen up some. Because as far as the horror genre goes, despite going hard after the thrilling aspects, this film plays it completely safe, staying under the umbrella of the PG-13 rating. 

Don’t expect any gory surprises or intense kills from this one; I can’t imagine anybody truly finding this film excessively or even moderately terrifying. Possibly, my nine- and eleven-year-old boys, who have had virtually no exposure to horror films, may have. 

Kerry Condon in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Kerry Condon in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The cast of Night Swim tries to keep the movie afloat

Otherwise, this tame piece of scary movie filmmaking is held up from being a complete waste by the efforts of its cast. As I mentioned, Kerry Condon is a formidable force who is trying her best to keep this film above water. But the husband, played by Wyatt Russell, and the child actors playing their kids were also pulling some of the weight, especially the young son, played by Gavin Warren, who was particularly good. 

Without going too hard on Night Swim, as I mentioned, some sequences where the film tries to establish tension or make you jump a little are successful. The special and practical effects utilized and the creature design are well constructed. But sadly, this swim doesn’t live up to the potential that it could’ve been had it been entrusted to the right hands, and unfortunately, it more or less flounders around in the water for a little over an hour and a half.

Kerry Condon and Wyatt Russell in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Kerry Condon and Wyatt Russell in Night Swim (2024). Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Final thoughts on Night Swim

While general audiences might have more fun with this movie than film critics will, it’s a tough film to recommend with the many missteps it makes right from the outset. Horror fans will get a little fix with some creepy sequences that are executed decently, but on the whole, Night Swim just wades around a bit in the shallow end of the horror pool.

Night Swim is now streaming.

Learn more about it by visiting the Universal Pictures website for the title. Have you watched the movie yet? What did you think? Does it make you reconsider swimming pools this summer? Share your thoughts on Night Swim by connecting with us on X @MoviesWeTexted.


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