‘Night Swim’ Review: A Poor Poolsession

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Night Swim, the annual kickoff horror film of 2024, which doesn't get enough out of its "evil pool" premise.
User Rating: 2

I wouldn’t call it a fear, but I get an irrational feeling of worry about sharks being in swimming pools due to Jaws. Being an adult with enough intelligence to know there will not be a great white shark hidden in my pool whenever I go in speaks to how amazing Jaws is. With that said, Night Swim may have just helped me get past this due to how foolish it is. Now, granted, a film with the pitch likely amounting to “Killer Pool” is not one I am supposed to take seriously, but that doesn’t mean it gets the benefit of the doubt for being as hokey as it is. Lacking in camp value or any genuine tension that could come from its setting, this Blumhouse horror flick is too waterlogged to stay afloat.

An opening prologue makes it clear that we’ll have to settle for cheap tactics and poorly established rules to understand how this haunted pool works. Spirits rise a bit once we’re introduced to Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon’s Ray and Eve Waller, a married couple with two kids, Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren). Ray is a former pro baseball player coming to terms with an MS diagnosis. Eve is a teacher starting a new job, so the family decides to buy the house with the evil pool.

See Also: ‘Dark Harvest’ Review: Something Fresh, Despite its Familiar Crops

Night Swim

How do we know it’s evil? The pool seemingly attempts to kill Ray twice within a week. Should Ray have maybe taken that as a sign to not purchase the home? Of course! Does he? Of course not! Do they eventually throw a pool party despite all four family members having experienced something creepy involving their mysterious backyard accessory? Absolutely, they do, and yes, things go very wrong during said party.

The film is based on a 2014 short film (we’re talking five minutes long) by director and writer Bryce McGuire. Unfortunately, compared to a movie such as Lights Out, which was also adapted from a short, there’s not nearly enough at play to make Night Swim work even without the horror element. Yes, McGuire developed an elaborate backstory to explain why a swimming pool would be haunted, but it is far from satisfying. If anything, given the multiple attempts to justify a pool of this nature, the film could have been better off with more ambiguity, apart from Ben Sinclair’s amusing pool tech character explaining what natural spring pools are.

As it stands, this film relies on a supernatural element that never registers as scary. The looming threat of an obscured creature of some kind can be neat at times, and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff does try to make water-level shots a fairly constant motif. However, whether it’s the direction or editorial choices that amount to the repetitive need to deliver jump scares using the same tactics again and again (a character looks one way, the camera follows, then follows them back, and – surprise! Someone else is there), there’s never a time when I felt any genuine tension.

Night Swim

It should be pretty simple to make a darkened pool feel scary. Instead, I just felt tired of attempting to justify scary moments through pool and water-related ideas. Plus, even while Condon’s character briefly mentions she was raised as a great swimmer, my constant thought about how long these characters could hold their breath underwater kept me at an arm’s distance from the film’s presented threat of creatures lurking beneath the surface and holding people down.

The human drama doesn’t fair much better. Condon is an ace performer, Oscar-nominated for her work in The Banshees of Inisherin. Russell is a compelling screen presence who can hold his own in horror movies with wacky premises taken seriously (see: Overlord). In this film, which is clearly channeling Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror, among other notables, as certain characters become more connected to the pool mentally/spiritually (or whatever), the way we see their reality alter never effectively plays into the relationships between the family members. It’s shallow work that calls for at least some nuance, even if this is the standard “first week of January” horror release.

With that in mind, at least last year’s Blumhouse-produced M3GAN wanted to have fun with its gonzo concept. There’s a clear layer of camp on top of its premise that proved worthwhile to audiences. Night Swim doesn’t need to wink at the audience, but it misses the mark on handling drama in a manner that leads to intended humor. Instead, there are nonsense scenes where characters declare their need to be by the pool that do not register as layered sentiments stemming from a clever script.

Night Swim

The benefit films like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Night of the Lepus, or any number of older high-concept horror films had was that they were coming out of the 70s and 80s. Their inherent absurdity was matched with the style of the time. In 2023, a major studio delivering a movie like this, even on the modest budgets Blumhouse provides, still means there’s a slickness that doesn’t allow a film like Night Swim to get away with its earnestness in the same way. Instead, it becomes a slog based on a mishmash of tones thanks to laughable writing and poorly handled scares.

I’d be all for a film about a killer swimming pool if it delivered the goods. And “the goods” can go several ways depending on the severity of the horror violence, the design of whatever is in the pool, or even any number of surreal approaches one could take. Night Swim doesn’t do much to capitalize on what it has beyond the basics, and it shows. Whatever few highlights there are get washed away in this meager horror offering that needed to wait a little longer before getting out to swim.

Night Swim opens in theaters on January 5, 2024.

Night Swim

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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