The Midnight Swim (2014) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Midnight Swim (2014) Review

Horrorific content by delgrady on March 11th, 2022 | Movie Review | Slow Burn, Drama, Mystery, Dangerous Exploration, Arthouse

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For three sisters, Spirit Lake may hold the mystery of their missing mother, or it may hold more uncomfortable mysteries.

The Midnight Swim was directed by Sarah Adina Smith (worked on the anthology film Holidays) and stars Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur (from Take Back The Night) and Aleksa Palladino (from Wrong Turn 2) among others. 

Death is not what you think

The Midnight Swim Review

In the spirit of art and independent filmmaking – this is a difficult film to classify. It’s certainly not a horror film in the standard sense – no gore or stalking killer, no marauding monsters or demonic entities.  It does have death and grieving – it does have fantastic, even supernatural elements, but a traditional horror fan would feel short changed if this was marketed in the horror bracket. The fact that the film was originally released way back in 2014/15 on the festival circuit does suggest that this is being retrospectively re-bracketed by the producers into the lucrative genre market. However, the film does stand on its own merits if you fancy something different – self-consciously artistic and ruminative on the permanence of the human spirit.

Three sisters travel to their childhood cabin by the lakeside after the mysterious death of their mother (this could be the set-up for a horror film). Their mother died exploring the unfathomable depths of this eerie lake that seems to have a life of its own (likewise). The sisters hear the story of the ‘Seven Sisters’ who all, one by one, followed each other into the water and drowned, while they themselves are plagued by unnatural phenomena – dead birds appear on their doorstep, footage appears mysteriously on the video camera overnight. In a midnight ritual, the seventh sister is summoned from the watery depths. These are all promising conduits into the supernatural, and there is even an ambiguous, mysterious ending.

However, while these horror tropes are present – they are best-thought of as ornamentation to the main thrust of the film – which is exploring the dynamics and fissures of sisterly relationships – love, hate, guilt, jealousy, regret and everything in between. 

The personnel involved also tantalisingly hint towards the film being a horror. Director Sarah Adina Smith went on to direct the ‘Mother’s Day’ segment in the horror anthology film Holidays from 2016 and was joined by actors Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino (The Irishman, Boardwalk Empire, ), while Lindsay Burge also appeared in the understated horror The Invitation. The film even engages somewhat with the ‘found footage’ sub-genre of horror films, by positioning the footage as a video documentation of the troubled sister June on their visit to the house. As such, it is also subject to the plot contrivances necessary to have the camera running at all times and from subjective viewpoints.

The film does have an interesting dynamic – it draws on the strengths of the art film – surrealism, arresting imagery, enigmatic performances – the fact that everything is not obviously telegraphed and explained. It also has what some may see as its weaknesses – potential naval-gazing and self-indulgence, lack of narrative and of resolution. 

There are committed performances along the way, some nice imagery and location footage of West Okoboji in Ohio and some intriguing scenes lead towards a genuinely thought-provoking finale (check out the film’s several posters too – which are great).

In what amounts to little more as a cameo, the prolific actress Beth Grant plays the deceased mother. Grant is well-known for her role as Kitty Farmer in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko – a film that astounds and confounds in equal measure.  It may be that this marks her second appearance in such a film.

Worth Watching?

This is a horror film only if you have a very fluid idea of the genre’s possibilities, so this all depends on your desire for full-blooded horror. For out-and-out horror fans – possibly not. Those with a taste for the challenging, surreal and fantastic (with creepy undertones), it certainly is.

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