By Bob Garver
For the first time since the pandemic, January means the release of a terrible horror movie in “Night Swim.” Actually, the pandemic only really affected January horror in 2021. It’s just that with January 2022 bringing us that nifty “Scream” reboot and January 2023 giving the world the instantly-iconic “M3GAN,” I can’t say that the horror in those years was terrible. But now we’re back to January being a dumping ground for pathetic leftovers that couldn’t cut it at Halloween.
Following a perfunctory kid-gets-taken opening, we’re introduced to the Waller family. Like many families at the openings of horror movies, they’re looking for a new house. Father Ray (Wyatt Russell) had his baseball career cut short by a case of multiple sclerosis and the family needs a place where they can put down roots while he figures out the next chapter in his life. They decide against a house that suits his medical needs and instead pick one where he falls and injures himself in the backyard pool upon first visiting. I was ready to attack the believability of this decision, but then I remembered that my parents still live in the house where I burned my finger on an active iron on our first walk-through.
Some extensive repairs and bad experiences with brown water later, and the pool is ready to go. Ray benefits from it the most as he engages in water therapy. The spring-fed water is helping his body heal remarkably well, and he may even be able to salvage his baseball career. Too bad everyone else isn’t enjoying the pool as much. Mother Eve (Kerry Condon) thinks she sees someone in the pool, but everyone is in bed. Son Elliot (Gavin Warren) hears the voice of the girl from the opening and something grabs his hand while swimming. Daughter Izzy (Amelie Hoeferle) is attacked by a zombie-like creature and is pulled into an alternate dimension below the floor of the pool. So… haunted pool movie.
It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of a haunted swimming pool. I’ve enjoyed plenty of haunted house movies, it doesn’t matter that this one localizes things in the backyard. Plus, a pool has a size advantage on any human villain, as well as any beast smaller than a kaiju. But if the pool is to be considered a character, then it’s a badly-written one. Its motivations and rules are murkier than the sludge stuck in its filter. We supposedly get some answers in a goofy, hurried scene of exposition late in the film, but it’s so nonsensical that the entire sequence could have been cut and I would have respected the movie for its brevity.
One of the film’s few critical defenders (in that she gave it a somewhat positive two-and-a-half-star review) is Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com, who says that the pool “eats” people. No wonder she halfway likes the movie, that’s a pleasing justification: the pool needs to eat, that’s why it’s so malevolent. But no, that’s not what the pool is doing. It’s sucking people into an alternate dimension and they can never return home, but I’m not getting “eaten” from that. If the pool is meant to be eating people, then the movie is doing such a bad job of communicating this concept that I feel the need to argue with a professional critic saying that it is.
The problems with “Night Swim” go far beyond the pool itself. This is a bland, unoriginal horror movie with dull characters and even duller scares. There’s a scene late in the film where a villain is stalking a protagonist and calls out, “Marco!” After a few forced moments of suspense, the villain pops out and yells, “You’re supposed to say ‘Polo!’” The film thinks that five-word, six-syllable phrase makes for an effective jump scare. That’s this movie’s sense of timing in a nutshell. Even though I don’t think the pool of “Night Swim” eats its victims, I do invite the movie overall to eat me.
“Night Swim” is rated PG-13 for terror, some violent content and language. Its running time is 98 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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