THE MIDNIGHT SWIM
If you get nothing else out of year three of this blog, do yourself a favor and watch THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (if you haven’t already). It is available on Netflix at this very moment, and is just a great, creepy feast of a movie.
SWIM is the directorial debut of Sara Adina Smith, a very talented woman who I am sure will be super famous soon enough. I mean, her first time out of the gate writing and directing a feature length film and she makes a masterpiece, for crying out loud. Oy!
The film concerns sisters June (Lindsay Burdge), Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), and Isa (Aleksa Palladino), returning to their childhood home to settle the affairs of their mother, Amelia Brooks, a famous ecologist who disappeared while diving in the unusually deep Spirit Lake. Mentally unstable June is the youngest, a half sister to the other two, and an aspiring documentary filmmaker. The film itself consists of the footage June is shooting for her documentary. For me, it is probably the least cheesy found footage movie since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and NOROI: THE CURSE, mostly because the footage is both beautiful and meaningful without ever feeling forced. Also, it is very telling that June is the one making the decisions of what to shoot and what not to shoot.
Basically, this is a film about sisterhood, bonds of family, and belief–both in the sense of belief in the mysterious and ghostly, as well as the beliefs we all carry within ourselves, for b=good and bad, about who we are, and who everyone else is. It lives and dies on whether the three sisters seem like they are REALLY sisters, and the actors really nail this aspect. I swear I was so won over by the performances and script that I forgot that these women aren’t actually related in real life.
For those of us who love creepiness and the Weird, THE MIDNIGHT SWIM delivers that in spades throughout. At one point, a joke summoning of the supposed ghost of Spirit Lake turns scary real quick, as do the odd little discoveries around the house, the dead birds on the lawn. They (and we) start to wonder: is their mother really dead? Or is something else trying to communicate with them?
As all the present day weirdness is unfolding, the three delve into their shared past. Old scars are exposed, one of the sisters takes up with the guy next door who still lives at the lake all these years later. There is a scene where they make an impromptu music video, lip synching to a super cheesy ecological folk rock song their mother recorded years ago at the height of her fame.
Things come to a head in ways I didn’t see coming. The ending took my breath away, as the sisterly bond that was just tentatively starting to mend begins to fray and stretch to its limits. I’m telling you, this is an awesome film. It gets even better the second time through, when you can spend more time on the little details. SO GOOD.
I will warn all of you hardcore splatterpunks out there, who only like high volume shocks and blood in your horror movies: this one is probably not going to be your cup of tea. But, if you can dig some quiet, character-based unease that slowly ripples into fear as the past and present, visible and invisible, mix together and get under your skin? This is a movie for you…
MY RATING: MYSTERIOUS, DEEP, AND AMAZING