'Night Swim' Barely Manages to Deliver a Belly Flop

Four people stand around a dirty pool drain
[L-R]: Amelie Hoeferle as IZZY, Gavin Warren as ELLIOTT, Wyatt Russell as RAY, Kerry Condon as EVE in NIGHT SWIM

A suburban family faces off against a malicious pool with emotional baggage in this Blumhouse horror that barely manages a belly flop into the murky waters of January movie releases.

Former major league baseball player Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) moves to a new neighborhood with his wife Eve (Kerry Condon), daughter Izzy (Amelie Hoeferle), and son Elliot (Gavin Warren). Forced into early retirement with progressive MS, Ray convinces his wife to buy a home that comes with its own physical therapy amenity – an in-ground pool that seems to possess healing properties. But as Ray begins to heal and the family thrives, the Waller clan begin to suspect that such miracles come with a price.

First time feature director Bryce McGuire based the movie on an effective short he co-wrote with Rod Blackhurst in 2014. Unfortunately, McGuire chooses to stretch his short into a feature length story by tossing the proverbial spaghetti against the wall, borrowing loosely and liberally from films as diverse as Jaws, Signs, The Shining, and It. When a baseball bat showed up as a weapon of power, I cringed, waiting with certainty that a "Swing away, Merle" moment was certain to come.

A couple stands together on a green lawn
Wyatt Russell as RAY, Kerry Condon as EVE in NIGHT SWIM
The movie starts out strong enough with a prologue introducing the evil nature of the pool before establishing the Waller family as our main characters. Blumhouse has certainly made a brand of domestic horror, where relatable if somewhat privileged families must stick together in order to survive (Insidious, Oculus, and even last year's M3GAN). So the story managed to dog paddle along nicely for the first half of the movie, especially considering the charisma of this cast. But once the tension begins to rise towards the inevitable climax, the tone swings widely back and forth from heartfelt to campy, giving the audience and actors whiplash as both groups struggle to identify what type of movie we're in.

Part of the issue is that the family's problems are somewhat boring. Yes, Ray is dealing with a life-changing illness that renders him feeling useless and Eve tries to support him. But inevitably the kids in these stories about suburbia mostly get into shenanigans because they are straight out disobeying their parents. Inviting members of the opposite sex over or going where mom said was off limits is what spoiled kids do when they are bored, but it's not exactly compelling storytelling.   

The final reveal of the reasons for the pool's depravity only procured nervous laughter from the bored audience, even though it was delivered via a cameo role from the extremely talented and underused Jodi Long (Shang-Chi, The Mandalorian).

A woman swims underwater
Kerry Condon as EVE in NIGHT SWIM
Besides the cast, the movie does boast some outstanding underwater visuals, thanks to cinematographer Ian Takahashi (The Suicide Squad) and stunt coordinator Mark Rayner (Inception). And even above water, director of photography Charlie Sarroff pulls off some fantastic shots, often making the pool seem larger or smaller as the scene demands.

Visuals and an outstanding cast though aren't enough to save this soggy tale that could have been so much better under stronger direction.

Release info: Night Swim dives into theaters on January 5, 2024

Final score: 2 out of 5

movie poster for Night Swim