Night Swim Review | A PG-13 Rating Makes Blumhouse’s New Horror Film Feel Shallow


Summary

  • Night Swim has a haunting premise that can shake your childhood self to the core if you have certain memories and fears around pools and swimming.
  • Some scares in Night Swim are genuinely effective, but the film is held back from being truly terrifying by its PG-13 rating, and it can be unintentionally funny with its occasionally awkward tone.
  • There’s no chemistry between Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon, who are otherwise very good, but young actor Gavin Warren shines in his role as the couple’s child.


Blumhouse and Atomic Monster have officially merged, but the head-honchos James Blum and James Wan — ever heard of them? — have already been churning out hit after hit in the last year and beyond. And now, there’s Night Swim, a haunting movie title that might just send chills down your spine by just saying it out loud. Starring Oscar-nominee Kerry Condon and Wyatt Russell, and directed by Bryce McGuire, Night Swim is based on an eerie short film that sent the internet abuzz back in 2014.

Years later, the short that McGuire co-directed is now a feature film that hits theaters this weekend. It’s dulled down thanks to an iffy PG-13 rating, and the stars arguably deserve juicier characters, but Night Swim can still shake your childhood self to the core if you have certain kinds of memories and fears. The scares are perhaps best achieved by seeing Night Swim in theaters with your childhood pals or even your parents, if possible. You all might just look at each other and say, “Wow, remember that time we were in your pool and… (insert memory from youth).”


Stay Out of the Deep End

Night Swim
Pros

  • There are some genuinely effective scares.
  • Jason Blum and James Wan deliver a very polished production.
  • Young Gavin Warren is excellent as the couple’s child.
Cons

  • The first half is oddly paced and tonally awkward, and it’s unintentionally funny in a bad way.
  • The PG-13 rating holds the film back from being truly terrifying.
  • Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon are good but have no chemistry.

The Blumhouse/Atomic Monster collaboration is being released in the same slot as last year’s M3GAN, which was a riotous affair. The Allison Williams movie featured more laughs and overall fun, but that’s not to say Night Swim doesn’t hold its own. It all starts in “Summer 1992,” with a youngster named Rebecca taking a swim in her family’s backyard pool. Sometimes it’s best to take a dip during daytime hours, as the terrifying opening sequence ultimately confirms.

The film then jumps decades ahead to present-day Midwestern U.S.A., where former Milwaukee Brewers star Ray Waller (Russell, looking the part) settles down with loving wife Eve (Condon) and their kids Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren). They land in a new family home after multiple sclerosis renders Ray unable to keep competing in the big leagues. Russell and Condon have proven themselves worthy Hollywood players, to say the least, but the two don’t exactly have a lot of chemistry here on-screen. Their flirting seems a bit forced, particularly when Eve tries to stroke Ray’s muscles when they’re half-naked in the pool together. There was much more fun chemistry in our interview with Kerry and Condon; maybe they’d be better as brother and sister. Oh well.

The house has a pool that needs fixing up, and when they go at it, a pipe bursts that sends a terrifying current up through the sewer. Sent to investigate the cause is the pool boy of all pool boys, played to hilarious perfection by Ben Sinclair (High Maintenance). He gives a quick, masterful performance of a quirky investigator who lays out what Ray and Eve might be dealing with beneath their pool (the metaphor is obvious). But then he’s gone — and it’s simply a shame. If there’s ever a Night Swim 2 or prequel, it’d be great to see more of him.

Related: Night Swim Director and Cast Name Their Favorite Films of 2023, Wyatt Russell Hasn’t Seen Any

But then, once the pool is good to go, something starts to happen to Ray’s health. They say that swimming laps is a wonderful form of exercise, but let’s just say Ray’s pool does more than that to his well-being. The big shift here is when a gnarly cut across his hand mysteriously heals in record time. He even wants to revisit the possibility of returning to Major League Baseball, but Eve is skeptical, to say the least — especially when her kids start seeing things in and around the pool. Ghosts? Figments of a child’s imagination? It’s here that young actor Gavin Warren really shines. A boy who’s wise beyond his years, his character Elliot is equally skeptical about his dad’s strange attraction to their backyard source of entertainment…

Jack Torrance Vibes, But Hardly The Shining

If the couple’s weird cheerfulness in the film’s oddly-paced first half skeeves you out — almost reminding us of purposefully cheesy scenes from David Lych projects like Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, though Lynch used said style for good reason — we would recommend sticking with Night Swim till the end, especially since Condon’s mamma-bear persona gets more and more fun to watch. And don’t let the title fool you — there are plenty of daytime frights as well. Watch out for a chilling pool-party scene involving the infamous game of “chicken,” where two youngsters duke it out while hoisted up on their dad’s shoulders. And remember the Marco Polo game? That gets a lovely little twist when Izzy invites her secret boyfriend over one day…

Related: Night Swim: The Short Film the Horror Movie Is Based On, Explained

Another perk of Night Swim is that it clearly pays tribute to past scary-movie classics. There’s a pool filter sequence that virtually mirrors the infamous sewer scene from Stephen King’s It, for example. And speaking of King’s work, seeing the increasingly psychotic Ray stare menacingly out his house’s back window overlooking the swimming pool calls back to Kubrick’s film version of The Shining.

An accidentally hilarious moment comes when Eve tries to warn against the spirits that haunt the pool, to which Ray replies, “The pool is fine!” You may emit an audible laugh, though it’s doubtful the producers were trying to get said reaction. However, some more organic moments are extremely effective. A scene involving the creepy house’s prior owner (Jodi Long, terrific) is disturbing. “Love requires sacrifice,” she tells Eve, but it’s delivered with chillingly negative effect. It’s too bad Russell and Condon’s scenes don’t have more of this frightening edge that treads the MPAA line between PG-13 and R. And on that note, a hard-R rating would have allowed McGuire more freedom in delivering truly nightmarish moments. Maybe next time.

From Blumhouse and Atomic Monster, Night Swim hits theaters Friday. Check out our interview with Russell and Condon below:



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