Traveling home after the passing of their mother, three half-sisters start to wonder if strange occurrences around their childhood lakeside-home are as supernatural as they appear to be. The Midnight Swim, the feature length debut from Director Sarah Adina Smith, occasionally dips its toes into several genres, not committing to a specific one, but instead concentrating on the complicated relationships between the sisters and their recently deceased mother. Making the rounds on the festival circuit, the film made its debut last year at the Fantasia Film Festival, where it received an abundance of praise from audiences.
Shot mostly in a found-footage/documentary style, The Midnight Swim follows Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), Isa (Aleska Palladino) and June (Lindsay Burdge), who are not only dealing with the fact that their mother, played by character-actress Beth Grant, has died, but are also realizing that they all have a degree of contempt and bitterness towards one another. Their estranged relationship gives the film its backbone, later providing tension as a series of creepy events unfold. Annie and Isa, the two sisters who harbor the most resentment, receive the lion share of the screen time, though June, the film’s “cameraman,” gets in front of the camera once in a while.
It’s not until a particularly uneasy dinner; when Josh (Ross Partridge), an old-flame of one of the sister’s stops by that things start to get weird. An awkward conversation at the dinner table about a urban legend involving a mass drowning leads to an attempt to contact the dead, which as we all know is where most awkward conversations about drownings between siblings eventually leads to. Soon after, dead birds begin appearing on the doorstep and June’s camera suddenly contains footage supposedly not filmed by her. The sisters start to question if this is indeed their mother trying to communicate with them from the other side, or something else entirely.
The “paranormal phenomena” isn’t particularly over the top, and acts more as a backdrop for the serious emotional hardships the characters are going through. Don’t go in expecting to see terrifying ghostly apparitions or severed-rotting heads bobbing in a lake. This isn’t Camp Crystal Lake, and the film makes that abundantly clear. When something unsettling does happen, it often serves as the powder keg moment between the siblings, giving them a reason to unload a new piece of emotional baggage upon one another that either brings them closer together or divides them even more. Smith’s choice of letting the supernatural elements fade in and out during these scenes is effective, especially as the sisters start to consider what actually might be happening.
In addition to the compelling performances, the film uses sound to great effect. Instead of a typical score or soundtrack, The Midnight Swim relies on overlapping noises and music. Combined, they give a scene an added level of creepiness, which is especially effective once the film starts to focus on the underwater environment of the supposed haunted lake.
Even with its relatively low budget and inability to commit to specific genres, the film manages to tell a compelling story while shining a light on the complicated and often difficult times a family goes through when dealing with the death of an estranged parent.
The Midnight Swim is now in select theatres and available on VOD.