15 Jan 2024

Review: Night Swim

From Widescreen, 9:43 am on 15 January 2024

There’s nothing that can’t be haunted at the movies, says Dan Slevin.

Kerry Condon as Eve Waller in Night Swim, directed by Bryce McGuire.

Photo: Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Many years ago, I made a very lame joke about Stephen King writing a novel about a haunted shopping trolley but as time has gone on it’s become clear that with the public’s appetite for horror movies unabated, and the number of young filmmakers desperate to break in to the business needing cheap calling card movies, eventually all aspects of domestic life will have become vehicles for the supernatural.

This week it is the humble swimming pool and an all-American family being terrorised by powerful forces at the bottom of the drain.

Wyatt Russell (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters) plays a former baseball star downed by multiple sclerosis. He’s depressed and unable to let go of his past glories. Looking for a fresh start – and advised that water therapy can ease some of his symptoms – he and his family are introduced to a strangely affordable house set in large grounds and with a swimming pool.

(from left) Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) and Eve Waller (Kerry Condon) in Night Swim, directed by Bryce McGuire.

Photo: Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

They move in and he immediately starts to feel better. So much better in fact that he dreams of rekindling that baseball career. But the pool – and the spirits of the spring that feeds it – has other ideas.

Originally a proof-of-concept short film by writer-director Bryce McGuire, the YouTube popularity of the film got the attention of Blumhouse – canny producers of affordable but also often thoughtful shockers – and along with Insidious-franchise boss James Wan as co-producer, this modest little money maker was born.

One of the tricks that Blumhouse uses to keep costs down – Night Swim has a reported budget of only US$15m compared with $40m for The Boys in the Boat – is to cast recognisable but not necessarily bankable actors in the leads. But they don’t skimp on quality – hence the participation of recent Academy Award nominee Kerry Condon (The Banshees of Inisherin) as Eve, the wife and mother.

Wyatt Russell as Ray Waller in Night Swim, directed by Bryce McGuire.

Photo: Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Night Swim isn’t the most bloody or gory of recent horror films – the M rating demonstrates that – but it also doesn’t have an abundance of suspense and atmosphere. What it does do pretty well is show a family coming apart under the malevolent influence of the pool. Russell’s breakdown could easily be mistaken for a (totally understandable) mental health problem until it all gets out of hand.

For New Zealand audiences, the first sign that the pool is bad news would be that it isn’t fenced. That’s just asking for trouble.

Night Swim is rated M for supernatural themes & violence and is playing across New Zealand.