Sarah Adina Smith’s debut feature The Midnight Swim excels with the casting of it’s three leads and the uneasy atmosphere throughout. By staying true to its ambiguous nature it could frustrate, but there is more than enough to the story to enjoy.
Half-sisters Isa, June, and Annie try to come to terms with their mother’s disappearance, 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.
By having all three sisters be interesting characters in their own rights, we are lured in by them as the film glacially moves forward. With strong character moments littered throughout The Midnight Swim, we can get a good idea of what these three women are like. Additionally, we see the concern come across the elder two as Junes struggles come to the fore, perhaps echoing that of their supposed late mother.
All three actresses do great work here as you could easily believe that they were siblings with how they interact with one another. The trio has resounding ease that it increasingly helps you buy into their story. What strikes most, though, is how each carries their own baggage into their trip to Spirit Lake (some more than others) and how they each try to handle the pain they are going through.
The Midnight Swim sometimes uses some bewildering editing decisions that would not work in a normal narrative, with dialogue being played over ladybirds and the lake. But as we are seeing everything via the perspective of June, it connects and allows us an avenue in to relate or feel for the fractured mindset of June. She is a woman whose life has been altered in a manner that she is severely struggling with, and she company around her always. Even if that means that her camera is that company. We can see she is more affected by the loss of their other than her two siblings, and we feel for her as she becomes more and more vulnerable.
Equally, we see how much the sisters want to look after each other, certainly with how Isa and Annie try to protect June and maybe even at times acquiesce to her whims (a certain scene midway through the film highlights that greatly). Their relatability drives the film, and in fact, not having June on screen more with the other two sisters is perhaps a slight misstep. Their joint sadness radiates through the screen as we witness the difficult nature of attending to the estate of a deceased parent.
Smith makes some disorientating decisions within The Midnight Swim to keep her audience guessing on where exactly it is going. At times, this resolute ambiguity frustrates, as it feels as if she is keeping her cards too close to her chest without even giving the audience a peep at where the film is going. As a result, we are never at ease during the film’s runtime, and a lot of commendation needs to go Smiths way for that. She leaves us continually guessing with the disjointed nature of proceedings. It is oddly refreshing to have a filmmaker be so confident in their narrative that they do not have to explain every moment.
However, that also runs the risk of audiences wanting to give up on the film as this type of film requires a lot of patience, especially in the middle act. However, the general unease and performances from her trio of actresses are enough to carry us through those moments. The main issue with the film is that it never fully commits to being a family drama about the loss of a parent and the mental ramifications of that or as a film with folk or supernatural horror element.
By dithering between the two for so long, it loses itself a tad which is disappointing as there is a lot that works, but by keeping those cards away from us, we become more distant than we should with The Midnight Swim, leaving it to be a solid if flawed film.
Available on VOD now and on BluRay via Yellow Veil Pictures.
Commentary with Sarah Adina Smith, Aleksa Palladino, Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur, and Ross Patridge.
Sarah Adina Smith’s 2009 short THE SIRENS (13’)
Sarah Adina Smith’s 2007 never-before-seen short THE PHOENIX AND THE TURTLE ( 2’)
Special Featurette: THE THREE SISTERS; A look back at THE MIDNIGHT SWIM with Sarah Adina Smith (28’)
Limited Edition Booklet Featuring:
Never before seen THE MIDNIGHT SWIM artwork drawn by Sarah Adina Smith
Essay from film critic Justine Smith.
Essay from culture writer Nicole Cliffe.
Reversible cover art and slipcover by Aleksander Walijewski
Digital Release Platforms:
North America: Alamo on Demand, Altavod, Amazon, itunes, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu
UK: Amazon, iTunes
Australia + New Zealand: iTunes
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