de facto film reviews 1 star

Expectations for the first release under any big media merger are always high, and all eyes are currently on Bryce McGuire’s theatrical feature debut, Night Swim. The high-concept suburban chiller falls under the newly completed union between horror giants Blumhouse and James Wan’s Atomic Monster, first announced in November 2022. The feature adapts McGuire’s short film of the same name from 2014, the latter of which perfectly encapsulates this eerie idea into three frightening minutes. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for McGuire’s ambitious feature, which sinks quicker than it swims due in no small part to the difficulties of its core concept and the nagging familiarities of big studio horror.

Night Swim - Wallers in Pool

In the feature film, a relatively stereotypical nuclear family consisting of former pro baseball player Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell), his wife Eve (Kerry Condon), and children Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren) move into a big home to accommodate Ray’s debilitating illness, which caused him to retire from the sport he loves. The patriarch hopes to undergo water therapy in the home’s in-ground pool, which mysteriously abducts a young girl in the movie’s cold open set in 1992. In typical fashion, strange events occur as the family uses the pool, and Ray becomes more menacing and violent. Meanwhile, his family attempts to solve the mystery of the haunted pool and save themselves.

McGuire’s short film effectively demonstrates how spooky and unnerving swimming in a pool alone at night can be when a woman begins seeing a figure from underneath the water. Eventually, she comes face to face with a horrifying waterlogged entity. In its compact form, the creepy and haunted swimming pool concept is relatable and immediately terrifying and achieves McGuire and co-director Rod Blackhurst’s more simplistic vision. Despite preparing a reasonably intriguing backstory for the pool, the Night Swim feature proves McGuire’s idea is excellent in a bubble. However, after the concept runs its course, the movie flounders, relying heavily on aggravating horror movie tropes to push the story along.

Night Swim - Izzy

After one or two decently constructed pool scare scenes, McGuire subjects his poor audience to the sadly ubiquitous family animal accident, several tedious research and “scholar” sequences, attempts to leave the residence blocked by the antagonistic entity, and the obligatory parents v. offspring conflict, to name a few of the movie’s genre-busting sins. With what becomes a wet, less stimulating copycat of The Conjuring, Night Swim proves that its adventurous concept wears out its welcome and must resort to run-of-the-mill story beats to stay afloat.

Usually, other stellar elements could improve on such a dull structure, but even those are mostly absent in this sluggish January release. The characters are predominantly devoid of personality except for Ray, who struggles to accept his career-ending illness and pines for the glory days of baseball stardom. That arc, however, is about as shallow as the movie’s overall plot. The other Wallers are your typical spouse and kids, and every other character exists only to serve a specific purpose in one or two attempts to advance the plot or character development. Tack on some pretty flat dialogue—despite the talented cast’s best efforts—and the characteristically muted Blumhouse color grade, and you have another in a long line of samey spooky entries.

Night Swim - Monster

Thankfully, Night Swim is not a total wash due to some suspenseful and well-shot sequences containing drowned spirits dressed to the nines in impressive monster makeup. It is too bad that the cinematography is far too jarring and murky at times, particularly toward the movie’s conclusion, to create consistently frightening moments. Still, when Night Swim is firing on all cylinders, McGuire and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff assemble some delightful scenes. Sadly, the whole is more disappointing than its few promising parts, making for a theatrical popcorn flick that will cater more to the late-night teens looking for a good laugh than anything else.

Night Swim is now playing in theaters nationwide.