Night Swim Review: Stay in the Shallow End

Night Swim aims to be a dripping haunted horror film about these cement ponds, but largely misses the mark.

Haunted houses are well-trodden paths through the history of horror film. But haunted pools? Outside of a few notable scenes of terror in these suburban, man-made swimming holes there is not much to look back at. Night Swim aims to be a squarely wet and dripping haunted horror film about these cement ponds, but largely misses the mark.

The film takes the standard horror premise of a family moving to a new house for a fresh start and sprinkles in its own details. There must be literally thousands of these films where a family gets a good deal on a house, piles into the station wagon or minivan or SUV, only to discover there is a reason the house was sitting empty. This is not to say that starting a journey into new horrors requires a complete avoidance of this classic opening, but it is to say that starting on the shoulders of the greats means one needs to put in some semblance of effort to prove its worth. In Night Swim, the family is the Wallers and father Ray (Wyatt Russell) is the center of their world. Ex-ballplayer Ray has slowly developing Multiple Sclerosis and is forced to sit on the bench of life while grappling with his new mobility challenges. Mother, Eve (Kerry Condon), is supportive and in school to become an educator, but other than that gets little to no character development. Their two kids Izzy and Elliot (Amélie Hoeferle and Gavin Warren) are both adjusting to their new town as a teenager and middle schooler would.

Who these people are or are not does not seem to matter much to their new pool. As we see in the film’s prologue, this pool is up for attacking anyone at any time. What exactly happens in these attacks is a mystery. And much like a typical PG-13 horror film, all of the gory details are just outside of the camera’s eye.

At first, the pool is the Waller’s greatest asset. It can help dad with physical therapy, mom with letting off steam, and the kids make friends. What could be better?

Slowly, each of the family members have scary interactions with the pool. They see figures in the pool, out of the pool, at night, during the day, below the cement floor, coming from the drain. There is little rhyme or reason to what Night Swim is trying to make us afraid of. Heck, even the titular “night” is not a necessary criteria for a pool attack.

As the film goes on and the family gets more scared of their backyard, Ray embraces the pool and becomes obsessed with what it does for him. Like The Amityville Horror and The Shining, Night Swim dives (get it, dives?) into the subgenre of dad’s getting weird with real estate. This turn in the film is not unearned, but it does add a bit to the unclear source of all the scary stuff.

Though disjointed, some of the visuals in the film are darn spooky. Seeing shadowy figures both above and below the surface of the water are easily relatable and bone chilling. Also, the sense of foreboding built up with each swimming session is well crafted, even if there is little payoff after each reveal.

Where Night Swim most falters is its third act attempt at over-explaining itself and trying to make sense of it all. A haunted swimming pool does not need a lengthy explanation, and might be scarier if only taken at face value. However, the truly baffling exposition here is not only too long, it makes the entire film make even less sense. Calling into question the internal logic of an illogical premise is a fool’s errand, and one the filmmakers ask us to take on.


There are those horror fans who are hoping that this is a tongue-in-cheek film, aware of its own absurdity and leaning in to the random nature of the frights. And those horror films will be disappointed. Night Swim takes itself far too seriously, and we all suffer for that.