Sarah Adina Smith’s feature film debut The Midnight Swim is a unique little story, one that’s rooted in mystery and tension, straddling the line of horror and fantasy. It’s a movie that creates its own path, not belonging to any one genre as it attempts to tell a tale that reaches far beyond this life or the next. After Dr. Amelia Brooks disappears during a deep-water dive in Spirit Lake, her three daughters travel home to settle her affairs. They find themselves unable to let go of their mother and become drawn into the mysteries of the lake.
While shot in a faux documentary style, it’s never a distraction, rather an opportunity to see the world of The Midnight Swim through the eyes of one of the sisters, which adds an absorbing layer to the film that easily finds its way under your skin. And although it’s pegged as a horror film, I found it to be more of a drama with small doses of terror, as it spends most of its runtime digging up the lives of three sisters and how they cope with the sudden loss of their mother.
And in its 90 minutes, The Midnight Swim quietly creeps up on you, surrounding a story of life and death with just enough horror to keep you on edge as the story unfolds. It’s an interesting balance of genres that Smith gets totally right, delivering no doubt one of this year’s most intriguing films. But I think what hurts this movie more than anything else is that it never quite packs the kind of punch that all the tension is building towards.
With a movie so heavily focused on a slow-burning mystery and soaking its story in so much creepy tension, you don’t get the ending you’re expecting; far from it, actually. And although I quite liked the film’s final moments, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by its weird tonal shift. It’s an interesting movie for sure, and it’s one that I think is best watched without the expectation of it being horror.
Smith has crafted a rare breed of film, bending the genre lines into a movie that tackles otherworldly elements with a creepy touch. It’s an often unsettling story that meanders through the lives of three sisters trying to pick up the pieces after their mother’s death. By carving out some truly wonderful little moments both creepy and fun—there’s a random musical number in the movie that’s totally fucking awesome—Smith takes us on a journey with boundless depth, much like Spirit Lake.
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