Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, director Bryce McGuire gives the world Night Swim. If Jaws ruined the ocean, McGuire wanted to ruin swimming pools with this new horror movie. This film is produced by James Wan and Jason Blum, two legends of the horror genre, and it is based on McGuire’s 2014 short film. We’ve seen short horror films turned into features very well, with David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out being a shining example of the past few years. Blumhouse’s January horror movie of last year, M3GAN, was also a knockout. Unfortunately, Night Swim is a frustratingly mediocre movie that does not live up to its potential.
I spoke with McGuire last year at New York Comic Con (read my interview here), so I knew what he wanted to achieve going into this movie. This film is inspired by the likes of Jaws, The Abyss, Creature of the Black Lagoon, and early M. Night Shyamalan horror. It aims to take something as mundane as swimming in a pool and turn it into a horrifying experience. I respect his ambition and the fact that he was able to get two top-level Hollywood producers and major stars behind this project. But the execution of this idea feels half-baked, and it never swims below the surface of its lore.
A haunted swimming pool movie has a lot of promise. McGuire shows talent as a filmmaker with a really cool opening shot and a few effective scare sequences. Good horror comes down to good direction, and at times, McGuire shows excellent restraint. He builds a good amount of suspense through this haunted swimming pool concept. There are some predictable jump scares and a few that might catch some people off-guard. From the start, this feels like a classic horror movie setup, with a family moving into a new house, but there’s something scary going on lurking in the depths of this setting.
Night Swim also establishes the characters quite well. The family patriarch, Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell), is an injured baseball player looking to heal. He needs to swim in order to get his body back into the right condition. The teenage daughter, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle), is invited to the swim team by a cute boy at school. The family has a reason to want to be around the pool. It’s almost too well-placed because there are so many references to pools and swimming that it can feel ham-fisted. During one scene when Ray’s physical condition has improved considerably, he excitedly explains it with, “We have a pool,” which garnered a decent laugh from my audience.
You can see the attempt at creating something more layered than your average horror movie. Many PG-13 horrors focus on a group of teenagers who you’re waiting to see get murdered or an annoying family that makes a lot of dumb decisions. McGuire’s screenplay does its best to keep the family members as smart as possible while giving them legitimate reasons to stay in the house with a haunted pool. For the most part, these ideas work. But the story and the pacing can feel quite dull at times, heavily focusing on the storyline surrounding Ray’s baseball career and not going anywhere too interesting with it by the ending.
This is where a lot of the inspiration from Signs comes in. Shyamalan’s 2002 horror movie was a large inspiration for Night Swim, as both movies deal with a family learning how to become whole in the midst of horrifying events, a baseball player whose career was tanked by an injury, and a scene before the climax where a parent shares the story of how their child was born. The issue here is that Shyamalan’s dialogue and execution of these character moments are much better. The storyline surrounding Izzy and the cute guy at school is prominent in the first half but never goes anywhere. The characters use video cameras throughout, and although there is a payoff at the end, it does not feel emotionally powerful.
A character makes a choice in the final act that could have been an incredible tear-jerking moment. However, a moment like that would only have worked if their relationship with another character had been developed further earlier on. Even though the final act does ramp up the stakes, the scares can feel familiar with ideas we’ve seen before in many other horror movies. Night Swim is not bad while you’re watching it, but it can sometimes feel hampered by the PG-13 rating. It’s not thrilling or exciting enough, and there are some unintentionally funny line deliveries here and there. To make matters worse, the ending leaves you on an underwhelming note that will simply have you shrug your shoulders and walk out of the theater without a care in the world. The family story could have been more impactful, but ultimately, Night Swim never explores the depths of this tale.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 equates to “Mediocre.” The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.
Disclosure: ComingSoon attended a press screening for our Night Swim review.