THE MIDNIGHT SWIM
THE MIDNIGHT SWIM, which world premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in 2014 and went on to win the Breakthrough Audience Award from AFI Fest and Best Feature Film from the Denver International Film Festival, marked the debut feature of Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart, 2016; Birds of Paradise, 2021). The film 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.
Folklore and family meld too well in The Midnight Swim. You won’t know where one ends and the other begins. As we watch this story unfold all in “found footage” from Annie’s vintage camera. It becomes clear that their relationships with their mother were complex and dark. Grief manifests in a variety of ways, but the most successful aspect as strange things begin to occur is the connection between the three sisters. Aleksa Palladino, Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur pull you into the film like sirens. There is tension, adoration, irritation, and unadulterated fun that happens amid weirdness. Did their mother drown, or was it suicide? These discussions are ongoing. We discover Annie is/was unwell, never specified in the film. We see this in her solitude when the camera is pointed at her, predominantly in mirrors, as she is the film’s “cinematographer.” We’re tipped off in moments when the girls explain that she only eats alone, when she pretends to be a stranger calling her deceased mother’s office and then begins to take “night swims” she cannot recall until time-lapse footage appears the following mornings.
Strangely enough, one of my favorite scenes is the only earnest tension breaker in the film. It’s an oddly placed music video performed by the sisters. Each has a chance to show off their personalities. It’s seemingly something they did as children, and like the rest of the film, it lands somewhere between enchanting and creepy as hell. The set’s dressing, particularly the bedrooms, have a candy-colored aesthetic to them. Laura Ashley-Esque prints against morose faces unsettle your body. The story of the ill-fated seven sisters becomes more intriguing once you realize the ancient origins apply both to the sea and stars. While writer-director Sarah Adina Smith‘s film ultimately leaves us with more questions than answers, it’s a film that is impossible to shake.
Pre-sale on collector’s BluRay launches Jan. 1, on Digital and VOD Jan. 25, 2022
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