“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” - HP Lovecraft
The cruelest part of awards season cinema is that every December it comes to an end. In the age of massive tent-pole franchises the allure, the magic of blockbuster summers have waned as a result. By the time May and June roll around we’ve already seen five or six major movie releases and the summer hasn’t officially started. Add into the mix the streaming services and the intrusive practices they bring with them and suddenly the movie going experience isn’t as special as it once was. It’s why the awards season of movies is my favorite time of year.
From about September to late December we’re shown the best of cinema for that year. I love a good mindless action flick as much as the next guy but sue me for also wanting the occasional movie with substance and thoughtfulness. I like to feel the stories I’m emotionally ingesting. It’s why on the same list of my favorite movies I can include John Wick 4 and Past Lives. I want the full spectrum of the cinematic rainbow in all its multi-color glory.
And then there’s January…
I talk about this every single year in at least one review. It is the month of the Hollyweird hospice, the celluloid cemetery. Where cinema goes to die and be reborn in the form of blockbusters and Oscar bait. But before we can have the goods we have to sift through the landfill of mediocrity and let me tell you, January 2024 is starting off as expected with Night Swim.
I can’t outright call this movie awful. It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel earned; even when a movie is awful I can still usually find the merits of it. I can see the passion in it even if overall it doesn’t translate well. Night Swim is surface level filmmaking that reeks of a money grab. It’s as interesting as the dictionary and original like a Netflix spy thriller (if you know, you know). It doesn’t merit the title of awful simply because it isn’t significant enough to stick in our memories beyond its initial release.
Night Swim is based on a short story about the anxieties that come with the simple idea of swimming in a pool. The inherent dangers that come along with something seemingly so innocuous. Of course with any real depth of water comes the risk of drowning, but I think with the ethereal nature of water and the environment it creates beneath the surface something otherworldly therefore something often misunderstood. It tends to get the mind racing with thought, even when that thought is nonsensical or downright impossible. Night Swim explores the idea of what if that impossibility of things beneath the surface of a normal suburban pool actually existed. What if the monsters we imagine living in the depths somehow found their way into the shallows of our backyard pool parties? At least I think that was the idea.
The premise of what it means to fear swimming in a pool is primal, and I think widely relatable. I, for one, refuse to swim alone once the sun has gone down. In the brightness of a hot summer day I’ll be first in the pool and the last to leave it. When the night takes over I’m still open to swimming as long as I can see the bottom of the cement pond, and I’m not alone for my imagination to run rampant with images of impossible sea creatures that somehow splashed down in a pool in the middle of Las Vegas. It doesn’t have to make sense for me to be uneasy about the whole thing.
I bring this up because before I even walked into the theater half the work was already done. I was already on edge about watching an entire movie based around the idea of something I fear however far-fetched it may be. I'm supposed to be an easy audience and by the end credits I realized it was nothing more than a simple idea with massive small budget/major profits potential. They saw a moneymaker and that seems to be the extent of it. Unfortunately it shows on the big screen with a complete lack of inspiration. And that brings me to my next issue, inspiration or in the case of Night Swim, a ninety-minute ripoff.
So much of what we imagine as being great cinema stems from what has already been created. You don’t try to remake The Godfather but rather be inspired by it to make something in the spirit of but by all accounts wholly original. You pull from the greats and mix in your own concoction of originality and ideally you come up with the next classic to inspire the future of filmmaking and so on it goes. It cannot go unmentioned that the line between inspiration and ripoff is often indistinguishable, and it takes the truly talented among us to toe the line and find that desired balance. They missed the line by a mile with Night Swim.
Its greatest cinematic sin is being unable to decide what kind of story it’s trying to tell. Is it a possession horror? Or maybe it’s too busy trying to be another Amityville Horror? And among all these issues it tries to take from one of the greatest horrors ever made, The Shining. Like I said it never feels like inspiration but outright shoplifting. Does it at least do these things well? Nope. It feels like a shell of something that had potential and will apparently remain unrealized.
Night Swim is prime January garbage. It’s as forgettable as a random Tuesday in August. It will hopefully be lost on the pile of Hollyweird halfhearted offenses that will in probability somehow unjustly garner a sequel because Hollyweird has no shame. There will be no in-between — it will be forgotten or prolonged despite our misery for the sake of unwanted sequels and prequels. The best thing it can do for us is become scarce in memory and time allotted on the big screen.
Rated PG-13 For: terror, some violent content and language
Runtime: 98 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren
Directed By: Bryce McGuire
Out of 10
Story: 6/ Acting: 5.5/ Directing: 6/ Visuals: 4
Buy to Own: No
Check out the trailer below: