25th Jan2022

‘The Midnight Swim’ Review (VInegar Syndrome/Yellow Veil)

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, Aleksa Palladino, Beth Grant, Ross Partridge | Written and Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

Originally premièring at the Fantasia International Film festival in 2014 and going on to win the Breakthrough Audience Award at AFI Fest, as well as Best Feature Film at the Denver International Film Festival, The Midnight Swim is now being digitally re-released alongside a special edition Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome/Yellow Veil Pictures. As a fan of found footage movies, I was excited to see this little known film.

We immediately meet three sisters who are returning to their childhood home after their mother has disappeared (presumed dead) after deep-sea diving into a mysterious lake near the home. Spirit Lake is apparently so deep that no one has ever managed to find the bottom. As the three sisters decide what to do with the house, the lake and its surroundings are the location for some strange occurrences and they soon regret a drunken evening in which they ‘conjure the spirits’ of the seven sisters who drowned in the lake – or so the legend says.

The Midnight Swim is an interesting take on the found footage genre, a genre that shows there plenty of directors out there with original ideas in it. Here, it’s one of the sisters that films everything that is happening. The shyer of the three and probably the one with the most obvious issues. These issues and emotional baggage of all of them play a big part in the movie. We learn why the sisters don’t see each other as often as they used to and we see that their mother wasn’t as nice and, well motherly, as it first appeared. Working through these issues together, at their home, might seem a good idea at first but tensions boil over and the continued hints at something paranormal helps The Midnight Swim have at least one foot in the horror genre.

Those hints though don’t amount to much though and although there are Lake Mungo vibes throughout, horror fans might be left disappointed. What they will enjoy though is the excellent music from composer Ellen Reid. Not only are the quieter scenes made a bit odd when the dialogue doesn’t seem quite right but there’s often this creepy tone and brilliantly eerie score that makes the viewer believe something is going to happen.

I loved the night time shots of the dock, almost the same shot used again and again but the starlit sky above the dark still lake looks fantastic, while the one scene that involves the sister’s home-made upbeat music video did seem a little out of place. The symbolism of the lake is made clear by the end of The Midnight Swim but I was left a little unsatisfied by those final few moments.

That said, it’s easy to see why this début feature by director Sarah Adina Smith is so well-liked by the people that have seen it. Like the aforementioned Lake Mungo, I would not be surprised if this picks up a cult following on its re-release because there’s much to enjoy in this subtle but often creepy found footage movie.

Special Features:

  • Commentary from cast & crew
  • The Three Sisters Featurette
  • The Sirens (Short)
  • The Phoenix and the Turtle (Short)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Essays by writers Justine Smith and Nicole Cliffe

The Midnight Swim is out now on digital and on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome/Yellow Veil Pictures. Order your copy here.

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