Movie review: ‘Night Swim’ starts strong, drowns in the runtime

Have you ever looked down into the ocean to the point where it’s only darkness, but your pulse quickens when you remember that it’s not only darkness? There are other things down there, some of them quite dangerous – and you can’t see them.

“Night Swim” plays on our natural fears of what we can’t see, but not in the vast ocean — in the comfort of a backyard swimming pool.

A former professional baseball player named Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) moves with his wife and kids into a standard suburban home with a pool after a debilitating disease prematurely ends his sports career.

Checking out the pool, Ray recalls his youth, when pools were happy places for happy memories. Even better, the family learns that the pool is unique, in that it is fed from spring water — which the pool man foreshadows can have amazing health benefits.

Before long, Ray’s body shows a remarkable recovery from his illness, and he wonders if his baseball dream might not be over after all.

But this is a horror film, friends, where no miracle comes without a cost. The spring water has a dark history, in which it giveth, and it taketh. And it’s only when Ray’s kids are threatened by the water that the cost of his miracle becomes clear.

Filmmakers Bryce McGuire and Rod Blackhurst team up again a decade after they made a short film of the same title and setting. This new, full-length version has better scares, especially early in the film. What makes the setting effective is that most of us have felt what it’s like to be isolated under water, unable to see or hear what’s going on out of it. Some of us have turned off the lights in a pool or jumped in a lake for a night swim, and allowed our imaginations to fill in the darkness — never with something pleasant.

The script never bothers prodding too much at the origin of this water’s evil, and the scares fade in the second half of the movie, starting pretty much when it makes the classic horror movie mistakes of showing too much. Instead of maintaining the mysterious, invisible evil, it suddenly takes form in what look like cheap Halloween masks you’d find at a discount store. It should have stayed unseen and kept our imaginations in control.

The movie picks up goosebumps again with Russell’s creepy performance, but it never fully returns to the tone of the early unease. Once the family knows what’s up, it’s a straight line to the finish. There aren’t a lot of turns on the way to a predictable finale.

“Night Swim” has a strong premise for a short film, but drowns as a full motion length picture.

3 / 5 Pool Noodles

Scott McDaniel is an assistant professor of journalism at Franklin College. He lives in Bargersville with his wife and three kids.