Night Swim Review: 2024 Movies Can Really Only Get Better From Here

Reflecting back on almost exactly one year ago, the filmmakers at Blumhouse and Atomic Monster scored a big win in the early weeks of 2023 with Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN. While it can be said that the movie didn’t totally live up to its full potential (check out the unrated cut to see a superior version of the film), it still managed to deliver a smart story with real themes, engaging characters, and memorable laughs and screams. It was a nice surprise to encounter in January, which is a month that studios have historically use as a dumping ground for misfires.

Night Swim

Night Swim trailer image

(Image credit: Universal)

Release Date: January 4, 2023
Directed By: Bryce McGuire
Written By: Bryce McGuire & Rod Blackhurst
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amélie Hoeferle, and Gavin Warren
Rating: PG-13 for terror, some violent content and language
Runtime: 98 minutes

It was because of my positive memories of M3GAN that I decided to let myself get excited for writer/director Bryce McGuire’s Night Swim. With the films being produced by the same studios and released at the same time of year, I willfully let the marketing machine manipulate me into thinking that there would be correlation in the experiences, and that I would walk away from the 2024 feature with similar cinematic satisfaction as what I experienced in January 2023.

Do not make the same mistake that I did.

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. It has nothing to excite an audience and nothing to say, and one is left thinking that 2024 movies can only get better from here.

Co-written by Bryce McGuire and Rod Blackhurst, and adapted from the 2014 short film of the same name, Night Swim begins as the Waller family hopes to put down roots by buying a new home. Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) is a former professional baseball player who is forced to retire early due to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) and two children (Amélie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren) are excited to have a permanent home after years of moving around. When they find a house with a backyard pool, Ray is particularly excited, as he hopes that it will aid him with his medically-required exercises.

At first, the pool seems to have some miraculous effects, as Ray’s condition shows remarkable signs of improvement, but its benefits are quickly outnumbered by freaky incidents that occur in the water including ghostly attacks and visions.

Night Swim is never scary and is content doing the same bits over and over again.

My use of the word “freaky” there is generous, as while anybody would naturally be unnerved by being grabbed underwater or seeing a person who isn’t actually there, Night Swim fails to ever deliver effective scares and wholly exhausts those two ideas throughout its runtime. There seems to be a lack of understanding that horror is a game of diminishing returns, as there is only so many times you can try and build tension by having characters slowly reach over water/into a drain before it becomes eye roll-inducing. And yet, the film goes back to that well over and over again. The filmmakers never bother to try and mess with the audience’s expectations, and there is an obvious lack of imagination that prevents the movie from justifying the comical conceit.

Only exacerbating issues is the attempt made at building a mythology, which could really only be lamer if it were to incorporate an “Indian burial ground” backstory. The movie takes the same approach horror fans have seen a thousand times over – internet research reveals a dark history, and a protagonist tracks down a past survivor of events who knows exactly what is going on – and its groan-worthy every step of the way. Night Swim never makes any kind of play for thematic depth, and its plotting functions more like an excuse for the events that play out instead of creativity-inspired explanation. Plot holes, unearned mythology developments and untended story threads can be found everywhere in the 98 minute runtime, and it’s ceaselessly frustrating.

The talents of Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon are badly wasted in Night Swim.

It should go without saying that a complete lack of character development in Night Swim helps exactly nothing, and it actually inspires sympathy for Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon, who seem trapped in a movie unable to take proper advantage of their talents as performers. Condon’s Eve is more of a living plot device than a person – serving as the protagonist who investigates the history of the pool and dropping bits of exposition that set her up for the third act climax. As for Russell’s Ray, the bizarre self-seriousness of the film renders his earnest turn as unintentionally comedic, inspiring laughs whenever the character professes a deep love for his backyard pool.

If you’re a horror fan who has been excited about the terrific hot streak original major studio movies have been on recently, Night Swim is a film that should be avoided at all costs, in that it will only serve to depress you and inspire a needle of doubt about the immediate future of the genre. You’d be far better off spending 98 minutes catching up with some of the best horror titles of 2023 that you missed or ratcheting up hopes for far better work to be released in the months ahead.


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