THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is the debut feature film directed by Sarah Adina Smith. Smith also directed Buster’s Mal Heart which was a film that made a great impression on me. I have always heard that THE MIDNIGHT SWIM was another film that I had to see, and now I can say that I am happy that I did.
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM follows half-sisters Isa, June, and Annie in the wake of the disappearance of their mother, Dr. Amelia Brooks, during a deep-water dive in Spirit Lake. The three women decide to travel home to settle her affairs, where they accidentally summon a local ghost and find themselves drawn deeper into the mysteries of the lake as their relationship begins to unravel.
The film stars Aleksa Palladino (No Man of God, “Boardwalk Empire”) as Isa, Lindsay Burdge (The Invitation, Thirst Street) as June, Jennifer Lafleur (The Do-Deca-Pentathlon) as Annie, and Ross Patridge (“Stranger Things”) as Josh and is written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, and is produced by Jonako Donley and Mary Pat Bentel.
Shaheen Seth (Buster’s Mal Heart, King Knight) is the cinematographer who does a wonderful job with the unconventional framing and composition of the shots and the strange hyperreal quality of certain night shots that look at the lake. The mysterious nature of the story is emphasized by the unconventional way that it is filmed and the shots are presented. One particular shot that seems to be a static color morphs into something else entirely. In mainstream film, the formula with camera movement is that a shot will start to move and go to a specific place. Every time. But with the camera movement in THE MIDNIGHT SWIM, the camera sometimes starts to move like it changes its mind and then goes back to the original placement, or moves in another totally different direction.
The music, which is minimal, is mostly a gentle but haunting lullaby sung by a female voice. Occasionally, ambient sounds are used almost like music or there’s a rumbling discord that slowly becomes louder as the action and dialogue in a scene bloom with tension. The composer is Ellen Reid, who also worked with Smith on Buster’s Mal Heart.
There are three main characters, but one stays off-camera for the first half of the film. As it happens, her POV is the camera’s POV quite often as the character, Annie, is operating a camera and filming her sisters and anyone who comes in contact with them. When the real estate agent reacts uncomfortably to being filmed, one of the sisters off-camera explains that her sister is “making a documentary”. It’s a handy excuse, but to me, I doubt that is the case. The sister, Annie, seems to be unable or unwilling to interact with human beings and uses the camera as a buffer between herself and the world. It’s kind of like James Spader’s character in Sex Lies And Videotape, except that it’s her all the time. It adds another layer of eeriness to the proceedings because, in thrillers and horror films, a POV shot is usually, at least in films like Halloween, Friday The 13th, or originally A Bay Of Blood, the perspective of the killer.
Sarah Adina Smith has wisely left the interpretation of what is really going on up to the viewer. Did the sisters awaken the legendary Seven Sisters who have returned to claim new victims? Are the sisters unreliable narrators of their own story? The perspective of the protagonist shifts midway through the film and my belief is that obsession and madness have taken over. I have seen the shift in another recent film, but certain scenes do call the sanity of some characters into question. The most unsettling question is what if it’s both?
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM is one of those unsung gems of independent film. Willing to make choices that buck the conventional rules of filmmaking, the film tells an alternately charming and unsettling tale of mystery. It evokes questions about the nature of life, the structure of the universe, and the mystery of reality and sanity. Filled with strong and compassionate performances from a richly talented ensemble, it makes the mystery more than intriguing enough to haunt your sleep. A must-see.
The film has been released on Blu-ray by Yellow Veil Pictures and you can purchase it from Vinegar Syndrome here. You can watch the film on the following digital platforms:
- In North America: Alamo on Demand, Altavod, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu
- In the UK: Amazon, iTunes, Ireland: iTunes, Australia + New Zealand: iTunes.