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THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (2014)
Directed and written by Sarah Adina Smith
Starring Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino, Ross Partridge
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Not all horror films have to have copious amounts of blood and gore. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is practically bloodless and focuses mainly on the relationships between three sisters as they reconnect to honor their recently deceased mother (DONNIE DARKO’s Sparkle Motion Mom Beth Grant). While this might be the making for a soppy melodrama, instead it turns into an effective little ghost story.
The three sisters are made up of; June—played by Lindsay Burdge, the youngest of the three and most introverted who is filming a documentary to commemorate this meeting and supplies the first person POV by holding the camera most of the time, Annie—the eldest daughter who moved away from home played by Jennifer Lafleur, and Isa—the middle and most outgoing sibling, played by BOARDWALK EMPIRE’s Aleksa Palladino. The highlight of this film is seeing these three sisters play off of one another in an effortless and all too believable manner. While each deal with death in their own way, the three sisters also come to terms with losing someone they sometimes loved and sometimes hated as their mother often times was more preoccupied with Wiccan rituals surrounding a particular lake. The entire film takes place in the lake house they grew up in which serves as a reminder for all of the good and bad memories the three sisters have survived.
What impressed me the most is that while this film isn’t your typical horror film one, I was wrapped up in the story from beginning to end; mostly because of the nuanced and complex performances by the actresses playing the three sisters. Even without the bizarre elements which I’ll get into in a bit, this is a ghost story where someone who had just past haunts the living through their memories and shared experiences. The mother is ever present here; either through video tapes, photographs, through stories or reenactments the girls take part in. And while things do get good and scary by the end, the real thrill comes from the push and pull relationships these three sisters have with one another.
There is a mystical element to this film, but it’s never really made clear whether this is something from the other side or something manipulated by those overcome with grief. Part of the acceptance of death is to overcome the irrational elements that the spirit may still be around watching and manipulating things from the other side. From the beginning, when one of the sisters asks if they think their mother has been reincarnated, the metaphysics of death and how little we understand it is delved into here. When dead birds start slamming into windows, the camera is turned on by itself and filming things on its own, and when mysterious articles of clothing are found in the lake where their mother died, this serves as a mysterious charge to the film which propels the mystery.
But all of this is secondary to me as this is one of the more intimate and more effective found footage films I’ve ever seen in the subtle and nuanced way it works in the mystical elements into a story of these three sisters. While I should hate this film as it does involve a lot of girl talk over lattes and the usual “We girls are doin’ it for ourselves” air about it (there’s even a lip synched song number that manages to be not annoying), I couldn’t find the rancor for it because of the overwhelming sense of dread hovering over each frame supported by the gargantuan talents of Burge, Lafleur, and Palladino as the three sisters. THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is not going to be for hardcore horror fans, but for me, this after-hours dip felt refreshing as it caused unease and terror effectively in a real world relationship sense as well as an otherworldly one.