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Midnight Swim, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Interesting mystery covering a more intriguing family."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Sarah Adina Smith's "The Midnight Swim" is one sort of movie in the sometimes ill-fitting skin of another, and I wonder if shedding that skin would allow it to be seen more clearly as a sharp tale of three sisters rather than a plodding story of the paranormal. There are two strong ideas at play here, and the film could have been something great if Smith could have forged a stronger connection between the two.

The three sisters are Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), Isa (Aleksa Palladino), and June (Lindsay Burdge), returned to their childhood home on Spirit Lake to mourn and put their mother's affairs in order. Not to bury her - marine scientist Amelia Brooks (Beth Grant) never surfaced after diving in this unusually deep lake (as in the bottom has never actually been mapped) - but mostly top see each other. Middle child Isa initially tries to fix oldest sister Annie up with Josh (Ross Partridge), but winds up connecting with him herself, while June films everything, ostensibly for a documentary. That includes a tipsy late-night attempt to summon the "seven sisters" of local lore, which may or may not be connected to some of the strange events June captures on video.

The trick with slow-burn movies like The Midnight Swim, even more so with ones that take the form of found footage now that it's no longer a novelty, is to make the characters either outright fascinating or dole enough hints at a larger story out that the audience can overlook how not much is actually happening (presuming, of course, that they're like me and very much into things happening). Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith does fairly well on this account; the sisters are an intriguing group, especially with the missing mother in the background - what we see of Amelia suggests she was eccentric, and three different fathers are implied.

The cast put in charge of bringing these characters to life is quite good, as well. Because June spends most of her time behind the camera, we don't see a lot of Lindsay Burdge, which is kind of a shame; while seeing the movie up like that allows Smith and company to de-emphasize just how seriously off-beam June may be until things come to a head, what we do see is intriguing and likely fairly true to life. It also highlights the similarities and contrasts between Annie and Isa; Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino have a similar enough look to easily pass as sisters, although the sensible and responsible Annie is clearly the opposite of the flighty-seeming Isa. To watch them together is to see traits reflected and stark differences played out with acceptance, though not without frustration. Burdge and Ross Partridge fit in well, too.

They're doing all this in the middle of something that is nominally a thriller or ghost story, and that becomes a bit of an issue. The strange events don't ever aggregate into anything that feels suspenseful, but keep the human drama from fully taking center stage. There's a point about halfway through or so where the realization that this part of the movie is running in place hits - for me it was ironically during a bit of explaining folklore that I suddenly knew was never actually going to matter - and then things just seem to stop, so that even over weirdness and explanations never really get things jump-started. There are just too many blind alleys to the supernatural bits, even if the one eventually chosen is kind of neat, conceptually.

It's put together fairly well for the sort of micro-indie likely put together in large part based upon the availability of locations and other resources. The look is believably lo-fi, but never to the point where it feels unwatchable; I half-wish I had made a note to see if Brudge was credited as camera operator as well as an actress, because the audience does get a sense of June from how the camera sets up and moves around. The moments when something fantastical at least seems to happen are intriguing.

Seeing how good some of the individual pieces are, I really wish I'd been able to plow through the moment when the outer thriller level seemed to sputter out and completely embrace what was underneath. On the other hand, folks were raving coming out of this, so clearly it worked much better for some than it did for me, and what I did like at least marks Smith and her car as people to watch.

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originally posted: 08/28/14 09:49:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Denver Film Festival For more in the 2014 Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 AFI Fest For more in the 2014 AFI Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sun Valley Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sun Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.

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  26-Jun-2015 (NR)



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