‘Night Swim’ Director Says Everyone ‘Lovingly Referred’ to the Movie as ‘Pool-tergeist’ During Production

The pool-set horror movie is “meant to feel nostalgic,” according to filmmaker Bryce McGuire

Night Swim
Universal

Ready to take a “Night Swim?”

“Night Swim” is the story of a young couple (played by Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon), who move, with their family, into a new house. One of the biggest draws of this new house? The oversized swimming pool in the back yard. (Russell’s character has a degenerative disease; he thinks the pool will help.) Of course, soon after moving in they start to notice that the pool is exhibiting some alarming tendencies. Yes, this pool is haunted.

It’s the perfect movie for people who get unnecessarily freaked out when they wade into the deep end, who wonder what is lurking in the shadowy corner of the pool or who have ever read the Chuck Palahniuk short story “Guts” (don’t look it up – it made people puke). And it’s the perfect subject for a horror movie, uncannily turning an everyday space into a source of unlimited terror.

Director Bryce McGuire is making his feature debut with “Night Swim,” basing it on a short story he wrote with Rod Blackhurst and supported by two of the biggest names in horror cinema – Jason Blum of Blumhouse and James Wan of Atomic Monster (their companies officially merged earlier this week). TheWrap spoke to McGuire about the origins of the story, expanding the short into a feature, and whether he’s got any ideas for a sequel.

Where did the idea for “Night Swim” come from?

The origin that was very simple. It was by my friend and fellow filmmaker, Rod Blackhurst and I being in a valley apartment and being in the kind of the apartment pool there at night. And just kind of remembering what it felt like to be a kid. And how the irrational fear of the pool that we all had that, you know, we knew the pool was only nine feet deep, but somehow it felt like it was it was 100 feet deep. And there was something horrible, rising from the depths beneath us.

And realizing like, Oh, that wasn’t just me. That wasn’t just you. There was something universal about that kind of irrational childhood phobia. I’m 26 years old and I’m still feeling like a kid when I enter that space. And so just trying to capture that feeling and seeing if there was other people that felt as delusional as we did. And it’s very doubtful that as we did, and we made the short shot in one night, very little money, and put online and it turns out that a lot of people felt the way that we did. We felt less alone in the world. And that was eight years ago. It’s been a wild and winding road to get here. But it really did just start with us trying to tap into that feeling that we still had, even as adults.

And how did you go about fashioning it into a feature-length project?

Part of the reason it took so long was that for the first three years after making the short, even when people kept asking me: is there a features? I was like, “No. It’s a haunted pool. Where do you go with that?” I guess the truth is, I saw all the bad places, you could go with that. And I was like, there’s got to be a bigger mystery, a bigger idea there, that anchors that was not really until I realized what the pool could do, what it represented for this family – a chance to start over. I think the positive side of what the pool represented was really, really important for why does the family arrive there? Why did they stay there?

And then also I knew I wanted the pool to be the villain. But I also knew there needed to be more than just scary water, there had to be something in that water that wanted to harm you. And that certainly, you know, took a little bit of developmental. Like how far do you go with that? What are those things? And what is that thing?

We talked about “The Shining” a lot. And how the Overlook Hotel, is a haunted location. And it’s not over-explained. I always love that feeling of being allowed to participate in my imagination, being able to participate in wonder. Some of those big bigger things have the breadcrumb trail there. There’s hints, there’s clues there, but I love having to like lean all the way in and guess and wonder. That sense of mystery is inherent to what’s beneath you. You can only see 10 feet into the murk beneath your dangling legs. But then what’s beneath? To me, the mythology lives in that 11th foot space.

There is that very Stephen King-y aspect of the pool being a positive for the family, at least initially.

And that was that was huge. You know, the 1958 Plymouth Fury, this was my 1958 Plymouth Fury in “Christine.” This is the this is the family dog that should be man’s best friend. But when it’s “Cujo,” it turns on you and it betrays that sense of trust, that sense that we take for granted, like, yeah, like, you should be able to trust your parents, you should be able to trust the religious figure, you should be able to trust the little kid. But that’s always been such a fun inversion that horror has done and I loved getting to do that with the pool because the pool.

It’s so appealing. It’s so photogenic. It’s so sexy. It’s so fun. And every movie from you know, “The Graduate” to “A Bigger Splash” to François Ozon’s “Swimming pool.” Every time the pool gets to be in a movie, it steals the scene. “Sunset Boulevard,” “Cat People,” “Suspiria,” “It Follows” –  the list just goes on and on. And I’ve always just been like, that’s my favorite part of every movie. That was so fun to be like, what if you built a whole movie around it? Just the kind of tactile deliciousness of that location; that was just a joy for me.

Yes, swimming pools have been very important to horror movies – from “Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2” to “Poltergeist.”

You can’t get away from the pool as the part of the kind of suburban iconography. It actually it’s funny that you say this. This is so goofy, but it actually like pretty apt – this film was lovingly referred to as “Pooltergeist,” which I actually love because all of those ‘80s family horror throwbacks were such a huge inspiration on “Night Swim” and just the feeling of that, like it is meant to feel familiar. It is meant to feel nostalgic. It is it is only reinventing the wheel in as much as we’re applying these tropes to this location.We knew exactly what we were doing. And that’s what I want to do. It’s like such a classical type of stories – the family moves into a house, like you can’t get more trope-y than that. To me that was the fun is, giving the setup we expect. And then just reinventing those moments and those set pieces through a location that we’ve not so extensively mined.

Horror sequels are just as much a part of any modern horror movie. Have you thought at all about a follow-up to “Night Swim” and the overall mythology?

We have to see. My hope is just that people liked the movie and it’s fun and it takes them to a place they’ve never been before. It takes them 100 feet deep in a 10-foot-deep pool and just opens their mind. It blows their mind in that kind of way. I can say that there’s lots more to the story and lots more to the mythology. I hope that we get a chance to tell that story.

“Night Swim” is in theaters Friday.

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