Aivan Alexander Uttapa, Amelie Hoeferle, Ayazhan Dalabayeva, Bryce McGuire, Eddie Martinez, Elijah Roberts, Gavin Warren, horror, Jodi Long, Joziah Lagonoy, Kerry Condon, movies, Night Swim, reviews, Wyatt Russell
January 6, 2024
by Carla Hay
Directed by Bryce McGuire
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city Essex Lake, the horror film “Night Swim” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An ailing former professional baseball player moves with his family into a new home, where the backyard swimming pool causes unexplained terror.
Culture Audience: “Night Swim” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies about hauntings that don’t deliver many genuine scares or any explanation for the origins and motivations for evil spirits causing the terror.
Ripping off many elements of “The Shining,” the misfire “Night Swim” (about a haunted swimming pool) drifts at a tedious pace and then sinks into a waste drain where bad horror movies are quickly forgotten. The film’s last 20 minutes are such a pile-on of nonsense and terrible clichés, “Night Swim” goes from tritely lackluster and irredeemably awful. Even the movie’s title of “Night Swim” doesn’t make sense because a lot of the terror that happens in the haunted swimming pool takes place during the day.
Written and directed by Bryce McGuire, “Night Swim” is based on his 2014 short film of the same name. You can tell that it was based on a short film, because most of the “Night Swim” feature-length film has a lot of repetitive filler that doesn’t really move the story forward in a meaningful way. It’s a series of not-very-terrifying jump scares and then a rushed and jumbled last third of the movie that does not adequately answer all of the questions raised in the story.
“Night Swim” (which takes place in a fictional U.S. city called Essex Lake) begins by showing the haunted swimming pool in action at the large two-story house where it’s located. (“Night Swim” was actually filmed in Altadena, California.) It’s the summer of 1992. A girl, who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is shown trying to get a small toy boat out of the water at the night. It’s later revealed that her name is Rebecca Summers (played by Ayazhan Dalabayeva), and she lives in the home with her teenage brother Thomas, nicknamed Tommy (played by Joziah Lagonoy) and their mother Lucy Summers (played by Jodi Long).
Someone or something pulls Rebecca into the pool. Underwater, Rebecca sees her mother standing at the edge of the pool. But when Rebecca rises to the surface of the water, she sees that her mother has vanished and that what Rebecca saw was an illusion. Whatever is in the pool doesn’t want Rebecca to leave. She’s seen thrashing around as if someone or something is trying to drown her.
The movie then fast-forwards about 30 years later. A four-person family is looking at houses with a real-estate agent named Kay (played by Nancy Lenehan), who happens to be the neighborhood’s busybody. Kay is friendly but she’s gossipy and nosy about everyone else’s business. The family has moved around a lot but is looking to settle down in one place permanently.
That’s because family patriarch Ray Waller (played by Wyatt Russell) is a former professional baseball player who played for several different teams in his career, which has now been derailed by multiple sclerosis. Ray walks with a cane and wants a backyard pool to help with his physical therapy. And even though the medical diagnosis is that he will most likely never play professional baseball again, Ray still has a lot of hope that he can recover and make a comeback.
Ray’s loyal and supportive wife Eve Waller (played by Kerry Condon) is more practical and is relieved that the family can now live in the same place for a longer period of time than they had previously. Their outgoing 15-year-old daughter Izzy Waller (played by Amélie Hoeferle) is a talented swimmer who is going to be on the swim team at her new school, which is another reason why the family wants a big swimming pool in the backyard. Izzy’s 12-year-old brother Elliot Waller (played by Gavin Warren) is quiet, sensitive and introverted.
The family seems to be living off of Ray’s baseball pension, because there is no indication that Eve is bringing money to the family’s household income. Eve mentions to Kay that she’s a graduate student in education and plans to teach at a middle school after she gets her graduate school degree. At first Eve and Ray were looking to rent a home. But when Ray sees the house and its swimming pool, it immediately becomes his first choice, even though the swimming pool is filthy and filled with leaves. Kay says the house is for sale, not for rent.
Kay also says that the pool hasn’t been used for least 15 years, which is the last time anyone lived in the house and why the house been sold for a bargain. And you know what that means in a horror movie. “Night Swim” does the same thing that other stupid horror movies do when they take place in a haunted house: The people who decide to move into the house never bother to find out anything (until it’s too late) about the house’s history and who lived there before.
At any rate, the Waller family moves in, and they clean the pool, but strange things immediately start happening in the pool. First, Ray accidentally cuts himself on something that’s in the pool drain. Later, Eve goes for a swim at night and thinks she sees Ray standing at the edge of the pool, but when she swims to the surface, he isn’t there. Elliot is very attached to the family’s cat Cider, whose fate is exactly what you think it is in a predictable horror movie. More eerie things happen—none are surprising.
It isn’t long before Izzy and Elliot experience some terror, although Izzy is in deep denial about it. “Night Swim” has also unimaginative visuals involving black bile in the pool and what can happen if the bile enters the body of someone in the pool. Ray seems to have a medical miracle that turns into a nightmare. There’s also a scene involving a pool cover that goes exactly how you think it will go.
“Night Swim” has very weak or non-existent storytelling about the people in Essex Lake, which is depicted as a typical suburban, middle-class American community. In other words, the haunted house in this movie is not in an isolated area. All of the characters in the community ultimately have no purpose except to be used as props for jump scares.
Ray becomes an assistant coach for the baseball team at Harold Holt High School, where Izzy is a student. The team’s friendly leader is Coach E (played Eddie Martinez), whose son Ty (played by Aivan Alexander Uttapa) is on the team. Coach E and Ty are among the people invited to a pool party that the Waller family has as a housewarming.
Izzy has a potential love interest, who is a student at the same school. His name is Ronin (played by Elijah Roberts), whom she invites over for a swim at night to play Marco Polo when her parents aren’t home. There’s almost nothing revealed about Ronin except that he is a popular athlete. All of the cast members’ performances (just like the movie’s characters) are either generic or show only the slightest glimmer of a personality.
It takes entirely too long in “Night Swim” for certain people in the Waller household to ask questions in the community or look into why something is very wrong with that swimming pool. The movie also wants viewers to just accept that there’s no explanation for the origin of this evil. “Night Swim” is just another shabbily made horror film that thinks some ghoulish images are enough to fill in the blanks, essentially ignoring that viewers want a good story along with the scares.
Universal Pictures released “Night Swim” in U.S. cinemas on January 5, 2024.