The Midnight Swim Movie Review
Written by Jeff Tolbert
Released by Candy Factory Films
Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith
2014, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released in theaters and on VOD on June 26th, 2015
Lindsay Burdge as June
Jennifer Lafleur as Annie
Aleksa Palladino as Isa
Ross Partridge as Josh
The Midnight Swim is a movie about three women whose mother goes missing and has presumably died by drowning in the lake behind her house. The women—who share their mother, but have different fathers—converge on the lake house to decide what to do with the property and find some closure. One of the half-sisters, June, is a bit on the eccentric side, and obsessively films everything that occurs at the house. So, yes, this is a found-footage film. Another one.
Maybe it’s unfair of me to be so dismissive right at the outset. The choice to use a certain presentation style doesn’t preclude a movie’s being good. While found-footage/POV is growing quite stale by now, there’s still plenty of opportunity for filmmakers to breathe fresh life into the subgenre. Unfortunately in this case, that simply didn’t happen. Midnight Swim is a rambling slice-of-life look at a group of eccentric women trying to cope with a parent’s death, which could be the setup to an interesting, poignant film, but ultimately fails to excite any sort of emotional response at all.
Right at the outset, one of the women, Isa, pontificates about the River of Forgetting, and how the souls of the dead must cross it in order to forget their past lives so they can be reborn. This is the very first scene, and it occurs seemingly apropos of nothing (and it isn’t just a poetic aside, either; this idea recurs throughout the film and structures the supernatural whosits that follow). So you’re primed right out of the gate to expect a movie about souls and rebirth. That could be great, except it’s really not what you get (at least, not until the very end). Instead you get, again, a look at a dysfunctional family trying to cope with a death, peppered with incomprehensible sibling conflicts that are forgotten as quickly as they arise, a low-stakes and uninteresting love affair between Isa and neighbor Josh, a lot of whisper-talking and whisper-singing, and a freaking musical interlude (really) that simply doesn’t fit with anything else that’s going on.
So the sisters are at this lake house, anyway, and Weird Stuff™ starts happening because this is a vaguely supernatural-y movie. In this case, actually, the weird stuff is mostly limited to dead birds appearing outside the house after apparently flying into closed windows. The women rifle through mom’s things, have a little fashion show with her old clothes (again, really), and visit the lab where she used to work (she was evidently a marine ecologist or something of that nature).
There’s a lot going on here that’s clearly meant to signal a certain kind of film, a very particular indie aesthetic that almost comes across as a substitute for real substance. The aforementioned whisper-singing, for example, is apparently supposed to lend a certain emotional weight to a number of scenes, but felt instead like an empty gesture to established independent film conventions which added nothing to the experience of the movie itself.
Lest you think I’m inappropriately approaching this film—which is emphatically not a horror film—from the perspective of a horror critic, I assure you that I like other genres too and can appreciate different types of cinematic efforts on their own merits. And in the interest of fairness, the cast of The Midnight Swim does a decent job with a lackluster script. Beyond that, though, there’s really nothing here to like; just a collection of independent film clichés that don’t work in any genre.
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