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'Night Swim' Review: A Deep Dive into Tired Horror Cliches and Jump Scares


Four Star Rating: *
½ 
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amelie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Jodi Long
Director: Bryce McGuire
Screenplay: Bryce McGuire
Story by: Bryce McGuire, Rod Blackhurst
Producers: James Wan, Jason Blum
Cinematography: Charlie Sarroff
Editor: Jeff McEvoy
Music: Mark Korven
Production Company: Blumhouse Productions, Atomic Monster Productions
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures
Genre: Horror
Rated: 14A (Ontario)/ PG-13 (United States) - Violence, Frightening Scenes, Disturbing Images
Release Date: January 5, 2024
Runtime: 98 minutes

It has been a long tradition that the first theatrical release of the year is a horror movie. Sadly, it usually has been a not-very-good horror movie that even fans of the genre quickly forget about before even the next big studio movie comes to theatres.

Last year, the tradition was shaken a bit with the excellent and bonkers M3Gan kicking off 2023 and not only being one of the stand-out horror movies but one of the best times one could have at the movie theatre last year.

Now for a cold splash in the face as Night Swim starts 2024 by being the type of generic, predictable, trope-filled, and dull picture from Blumhouse Studios that I was bemoaning about with Scott on The Movie Breakdown back in 2013. Horror was not in great shape back then because it was stuffed with cookie-cutter and cliche-riddled pictures only interested in doing predictable jump scares. The genre has been revitalized since then with some horror classics like Get Out, It Follows, and The Babadook showing the true magic the genre can conjure (and yeah, I've come around on The Conjuring now, too).

Blumhouse has played a huge part in making mainstream horror great again. But Night Swim feels like something they would release in 2013 that then jumped into a Delorean to force me to endure a disappointing and dull horror movie experience. 

You can bring along your 2013 Horror Movie Cliche checklist and get almost every box filled.

A well-off white family that occasionally whines about their 'rough; financial situation. Check.

Family pet exists to go missing and upset the youngest child. Check.

One person knows the thing is possessed while everyone ignores them despite the evidence. Check.

Characters are defined by a single trait that has very little bearing on the plot or their actions. Check.

Supernatural foreplay -- when the supposed baddie spends most of its time just teasing and taunting the family rather than doing whatever the heck it is that it really wants to do because it isn't the last act yet. Check.

A character finds an 'expert' who dumps all the exposition to explain what is happening in one scene. Check.

Most of the 'expert' explanation still doesn't explain the extended 'supernatural foreplay' other than someone thought it would be scary but it turns out dull and predictable. Check. 

It is all a downer because the premise of a family moving into a house with a haunted swimming pool has the potential to be as bonkers, silly, and fun as M3Gan or camp classics like Reanimator or The Blob, but instead doesn't explore the concept outside of flashing light, gurgling noises, and a creepy face popping out of the water. It follows the tradition of the Paranormal Activity sequels or Dark Skies by taking itself far too seriously and stitching scenes together just to set up the next supposed scare.

Wyatt Russell stars as a pro baseball star forced into retirement after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis who is drawn to a house with a pool that promises to aid him in his therapy and recovery efforts. Kerry Condon is the dutiful wife who expresses her tiredness of always having to move around and would love to root her family somewhere, which is this movie's version of a character but doesn't use it to explore anything the least bit interesting. Gavin Warren is the young son who struggles to fit in and meet his father's expectations,  but again, don't be fooled to expect the movie to do anything with that setup. There is the daughter played by Amelie Hoeferle who we are told is popular and good at everything, but doesn't do much other than get occasionally scared and land a boyfriend.

The boyfriend along with the neighbours and most other supporting characters exist to be pawns in the next obvious jump-scare sequence. Once they have done their part in getting that scene in motion, they disappear off to some abyss to not ever be mentioned in the movie again. The viewer doesn't even know if Hoeferle's character is still in the relationship with the hunk she was pining over after they get the very predictable Marco Polo scare out of the way. 

Nancy Lenehan plays a real estate agent and Ben Sinclair is the pool tech being the only notable supporting cast because they seem to be aware the movie works better with exaggerated and colourful characters. Sadly, neither means much to the plot and both are gone far too soon to provide much entertainment. 

Most of the movie is just dull family filler with the occasional jump scare scene that is either eye-rolling or much goofier than intended. The finale ramps things up after Condon's character meets a previous owner of the pool, but when I type ramp up, I mean 'becomes unintentionally silly' but not over-the-top enough to ever become actually funny. 

The movie was written and directed by Bryce McGuire and is based on a short film he made back in 2014. The idea of a haunted swimming pool seems perfect for a Stephen King short story or an unsettling five-minute film, but this never justifies being stretched out to full-length. McGuire does demonstrate some skill by using lighting, the sounds of the pool filter and tilted angle shots to make a place that usually offers relaxation come off as foreboding and dangerous. 

His prowess is shown in the opening scene by slowly revealing something sinister is happening with a pool that is intent on taking down its innocent and young victim. Every sound and bubble from the pool keeps you on edge and shows how things we never give a second thought about can be frightening when it's heightened in a dark setting and the sounds are amplified amongst the otherwise silence. The story never rises above that moment, and all the spooky lights, booming music, and disturbing sounds coming from the pool never amount to much for the rest of the runtime. Except to remind me how happy I am that horror has gotten a lot better since 2013.

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