Critics Have Seen Night Swim, And The Response Is Brutal

If the trailers to the new Blumhouse horror flick Night Swim had you screaming “Girl, just open your eyes!” during that nonsensical Marco Polo scene, you’re apparently not the only one. Reviews for the pool-focused supernatural thriller on the 2024 movie schedule — which hits theaters nationwide on Friday, January 5 — are officially out, and they are less than thrilling. 

Based on the acclaimed 2014 short film by Rod Blackhurst and Bryce McGuire, the upcoming horror movie stars The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s Wyatt Russell as Ray Waller, a former major league baseball player forced into early retirement by a degenerative illness, who moves into a new home with his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) and their two children. However, it seems like there’s not just chlorine and rogue leaves in their new backyard swimming pool, but a malevolent force lurking beneath its surface. 

It’s a silly premise, sure, but it seems like the “scary” flick also features a similarly doltish execution, as per the critics. Our own Eric Eisenberg wrote in CinemaBlend’s Night Swim review:

Night Swim may be produced by two of the biggest names in modern horror (Jason Blum and James Wan) and star two exceptionally talented actors in Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon, but it’s bafflingly bad. Putting aside the fact that it refuses to engage with the silliness in the premise of an evil backyard pool, it’s a film that can neither find a way to deliver a satisfying scare nor navigate a narrative without latching on to tropes like an exhausted long distance swimmer clinging to a buoy.

Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter found fault in the movie’s ability to “drum up suspense” across its hour-and-a-half runtime, writing: 

The short that provided this film’s inspiration had a running time of under four minutes, which sounds exactly right. Unfortunately, the feature version runs 98 minutes, its simple premise gussied up with a backstory mythology that isn’t likely to make Stephen King green with envy. And when the most chilling line in a movie is ‘There’s something wrong with that pool!’ it’s all too easy to imagine the barbs on a future episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Owen Gleiberman over at Variety dubs the film “The Aquatyville Horror” and likens its less-than-foreboding atmosphere to that of “a college pool party”:

This one, waterlogged as it is, should have been called ‘The Aquatyville Horror,’ and some might consider that a recommendation…The title of ‘Night Swim’ suggests the heightened sensual atmosphere of a college pool party, and that’s probably what it should have been: a slasher film set in the 12-foot deep. Instead, it’s a family horror movie, and this is one case where you really feel the PG-13-ness of it all.

Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald proclaims that there are “many, many better ways” to kick off a new year of moviegoing than by taking in “the very damp effort” that is Night Swim. She also hopes that the “always-splendid” Condon — a 2023 Oscar nominee for The Banshees of Inisherin — is “getting a really good paycheck” for this “soggy mess”:

You watch hoping that the always-splendid Condon, an Oscar nominee last year for ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ is getting a really good paycheck, and wondering why writer/director Bryce McGuire saw fit to expand his very effective four-minute 2014 film ‘Night Swim’ into this soggy mess. Don’t go in the water, indeed.

At The A.V. Club, writer Matthew Jackson is more generous than most, grading Night Swim a “B.” However, though he praises the film’s “engaging and endearing cast,” he notes the “choppy waters” of the movie’s back half:

As Night Swim rounds third and makes the turn for home, it starts to struggle to keep its head above the water. The creepy moments are still there, and the film’s surprisingly adept wit keeps peppering in laughs amid the scares, but everything also starts to feel rushed…There’s an abruptness that compresses and flattens out everything, from the horror of a pool that seems to bubble up and fill every space in the family’s life to the deeply human struggles of parents just trying to get through another crisis. It’s enough to wring a lot of the emotional heft out of what could have been a truly affecting conclusion, and it’s disappointing to see the film lose steam so quickly.

Alissa Wilkinson at The New York Times echoes some of Jackson’s sentiments, calling the first half of Night Swim “remarkably effective” but ultimately conceding that “it goes downhill” under the weight of too many horror tropes: 

The problem with ‘Night Swim’ is that it’s trying to say a little too much, which isn’t a complete pleasure-killer, but can get distracting. It’s partly a movie about a primal fear of the water, and that’s where it’s most effective…But other horror tropes pop up here and there — the ‘Indian burial ground,’ the sick kid — themes surface in an ungainly manner. It’s a movie about the dark side of ambition and the true nature of sacrifice; also family favoritism, and illness, and maybe hell? By the end I wasn’t really sure, and the general goofiness that emerges in the third act undercuts the emotional resonance it’s going for.

Blumhouse Productions has had a string of horror hits in the past year, including the Five Nights at Freddy’s adaptation starring Josh Hutcherson and the meme-inducing robot movie M3GAN, which earned way better reactions than the studio’s latest project. 

It remains to be seen whether Night Swim will be a hit with the moviegoing public but for now, it’s a sinker with the critics. To see the film for yourself, you can catch it in theaters starting January 5.


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