By: David De La Riva
Horror can take the form of many shapes; for some it’s a chainsaw-wheeling maniac chasing them down, for some it's aliens coming from the sky, looking to destroy the planet, others even see it in the simplest of things, like spiders or snakes. Terror is often unique to the individual, but there is one fear that we all share, the dread of losing the ones we love, and sometimes that fear can become too daunting for even the strongest to overcome.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM, a dramatic horror mystery from 2014, was the directorial debut of writer/director Sarah Adina Smith, and after nearly a decade of being on the shelf, finds itself released by Yellow Veil Productions for the masses to see. This affair of melancholy and dread stars a small, but exceptional cast, including Lindsay Burdge, Aleksa Palladino, Jennifer Lafleur, and Beth Grant as a family tormented by grief after the loss of a loved one. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is about the week they spend together trying to come to terms with a life torn apart.
June (Burdge), Annie (Lafleur), and Isa (Palladino), a group of estranged half-sisters, return to their childhood home after their mother, Doctor Amelia Brooks (Grant), tragically goes missing, and is presumed deceased, after a deep-water dive that goes wrong, in their backyard escape, Spirit Lake. The three sisters are there to put all their mother’s affairs in order, including deciding what to do with the family home, as well as to attempt a rekindling of their bond that has
become nonexistent in the past 10 years.
The lake isn’t all that it appears, however: as there was a tragedy of paranormal events that took place many years before their mother's passing, where an entire family of sisters disappeared in the lake searching for one another. Attempting to make light of that horrifying news, the sisters perform a pseudo ritual to talk to the missing sisters, but nothing seems to happen… at first. The next day, however; dead birds and mysterious videos appear to the sisters, leading them
to believe that things are not quite as they seem.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is an incredibly intriguing horror film to discuss. Many have and will continue to argue that the film is not even a horror to begin with, merely a drama that disguises itself in the horror realm. And while it does fall into what many would call stereotypical, high-brow horror tropes, I believe this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Not everything that horrifies you is black and white, sometime the most terrifying things in the world are just real-life events; the unrelenting burden of having to be the perfect child, the uncompromising urge of having to fix everything wrong, the feeling of powerlessness and
voicelessness, and of course, losing a loved one. All these themes and topics are demonstrated beautifully in the film, and while you might not be scared, you can see, feel, and imagine the terror that is going on with the characters.
Speaking of the characters, without impeccable performances from Burdge, Lafleur, and Palladino, this film simply wouldn't work, but luckily the three aforementioned actors brought their A-game. They truly shine a light on what it means to be family, the good and bad that comes along with it, and give real performances. The three feel like a family, and that is the biggest compliment that I could give this film, because, warts and all, you have had these fights and these discussions with your family, and the performances make you feel like you’re right there in the middle, as opposed to just watching them.
The film is by no means perfect, and some pacing issues and stereotypical melodramatic tropes do poke their ugly head out from time to time, and a story that we have all seen before leaves relatively little to the imagination. However, the biggest flaw in the film for many who watch it will undoubtedly be the fact that it is unrelentingly slow, and almost nothing of consequence happens. This is not a film for those who are looking for a point, as bizarre as that may seem. This is a film you lose yourself in, a film you allow to wash over yourself, a film you almost feel more than you understand.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is a wonderfully melancholy story and a phenomenal debut by Smith, featuring some fantastic performances and wonderful introspection. However, this film will not be for everyone. A slow-paced drama that simply dips its toes in the horror realm, but focuses more on the tragedy of being a family is going to be a hard sell for just about anyone, but if you are in the mindset to just be scared by your sadness, this film will not disappoint.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is available now on VOD and collector's edition Blu-Ray.