THE MIDNIGHT SWIM – The Review
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is a hauntingly beautiful character study about three half-sisters who return to their mother’s lake house to handle her affairs after she was deemed drowned in the mysterious Spirit Lake. Technically classified as horror, the film can be psychically disturbing at times, but this does misrepresent the film’s true nature.
Writer and director Sarah Adina Smith presents her film in a semi-faux-documentary style, allowing the viewer to get close and personal with the characters as we learn about them and feel how they’re coping with the relationship flaws and loss of their mother. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM feels like a deeply personal film, but with an edge of having experienced something with which we never should have been given access.
Dr. Amelia Brooks, played in retrospect by Beth Grant, was a researcher and activist in support of saving the lake. She frequently dove to take samples and explore, as no one has ever reached the bottom of the endlessly deep body of water. On her last dive, she never returned and was not seen again. Officially pronounced dead, her three daughters spend time in the house together, coming to terms with each other and their mother.
Annie, played by Jennifer Lafleur, is the eldest daughter and a mother. Isa, played by Aleksa Palladino, seems to be the youngest, free-spirited and fun-loving, new age hippie out of her time. She rekindles an old flame with Josh, played by Ross Partridge, with whom she spends time when not with her sisters. Isa is also the most interesting character in the film. June, played by Lindsay Burdge, is a photographer and is shooting a documentary on their experience. We see and hear the least from June, given she is in part telling the very story we’re watching on screen, but she also has reflective and revealing moments on screen, some of which are entirely silent but equally unnerving.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is not a traditional horror film. Instead, the three sisters find themselves exploring their own states of mind and each others’ as they talk, argue and reminisce about their late mother. Occasionally, their is a slight, thinly-veiled breach of the fourth wall as if the characters are interacting directly with the audience, due to the faux-documentary style, but because this is not maintained consistently throughout the film, we’re caught off guard. As the story develops, strange occurrences do begin to raise concerns amongst the sisters, at first assuming pranks being played in poor taste, later seen as signs of something more paranormal in nature.
Sonically, THE MIDNIGHT SWIM almost seems to occur in a vacuum, with little music and laid over mere natural sound and white noise. Occasionally, and usually when cutting to or featuring the lake itself, we are given hauntingly, unearthly soundscapes as an ethereal audio pathway leading us into the unknown. Tempting us to take a swim. Equally alluring is the picturesque quality given the lake, especially at night, dark and enchanting, calling for us to submerge within in abyss.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM contains several small, easily missed moments of finely crafted detail, much of which suggests theories and clues as to the events being portrayed on film. From microscopic views of their mother’s lake samples, revealing creepy natural beasts invisible to the naked eye to hand-written research notes indicating strange anomalies within the lake as she ventured deeper with each dive. Carefully placed bits of dialogue are also integrated to suggest connections to things larger and beyond our normal comprehension. These are the textures that help create layers of curiosity, avoiding the pitfall of being just a film about three sisters and their drama. This helps create the mystery.
Roughly 45 minutes into the film, the experience whiplashes the viewer out of the pleasantly coma-inducing family drama into a surreal, music-video like scene that injects a surge of joyous adrenaline into the previously sedated mind. This excursion from the tone of the film is never truly explained, in any conceivable way, but aside from this moment, all makes sense in the end. For viewers of THE MIDNIGHT SWIM that enter into the experience without preconceived notions or misguided expectations, this may prove an enlightening, even oddly uplifting film.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is slow at times, can be disorienting or slightly confusing, but is best described as an uncomfortable, intimately personal invitation to invade the emotional psyche of these three women at their most vulnerable. Its equally off-putting and tantalizing, philosophically and spiritually suggestive, making for a film that is not perfect, but far from boring.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM Dives Into Cinemas and VOD Nationwide on Friday, June 26th, 2015.