Editor’s Note: Other than receiving a screening copy of the film for the purpose of review, I was not compensated in any way for this review’s publication.
“Before you’re born, your soul travels across the river of forgetting…it’s wiped clean. So you can go be born again to a new life. You keep doing this, over and over again…the cycle of reincarnation. When your soul has learned everything that it’s supposed to learn, then you get to travel back over the river of Remembering and all your previous selves come together, to be one with all that has come before, and will come.”
The idea of rebirth, water, and loss echo throughout The Midnight Swim. While there are no true ghosts seen, no poltergeists terrorizing the protagonists, there are still ghosts haunting every moment, their auras appearing stronger as we near our conclusion.
Shot mostly in first person, the movie tells the story of three half sisters coming to mourn the death of their mother, who has disappeared in Spirit Lake, a body of water that she spent most of her life attempting to save. June, a documentary filmmaker, chooses to record her sisters Annie and Isa as they attempt to make sense of who their mother was, and the world that surrounds them at this lake.
This is a difficult movie to describe. At its core, it’s about a family’s dynamics and how they slowly start to crack and crumble around each other, but there is a great deal more to it. Equal parts surreal and cryptic, the movie never feels pretentious in its presentation. Perhaps it is the first person nature, or the insular nature of the cast, but there is a deeply organic feeling to what the audience is being shown. Characters are allowed to breathe on screen, to have moments of silence, to show emotion instead of simply telling.
As the story goes on, we find that their mother was not the first person to be lost in the lake. Seven sisters were lost— a story that has its basis in a Greek tale, of seven sisters who became stars, but only six are visible. The idea of this missing sister, and what she might symbolize, becomes more and more present. Dead birds, the movement of things in the shadows, characters shown in darkness (becoming faceless in the process)… slowly the world of these three sisters becomes less and less clear, the longer they spend in this lake house, surrounded by the mysteries there. What is interesting is the facelessness of the June; her face is shown less than twenty times in the film itself. Annie and Isa are shown almost always; June’s face, save for two or three times, is only shown when she is alone, away from her sisters, further isolating her from the others. It’s clear that she’s had some mental troubles (she refuses to eat in front of people, and her sisters hint at more), but there’s something about June that simply isn’t… there. All three sisters comment that their mother was often wrapped up in her work attempting to protect the lake, leaving little time for them as children. As the movie progresses, June becomes like this as well, slowly abandoning Isa and Anna for the lake and the memory of their mother–and what she may have found that caused her to disappear into the depths.
I found the movie to be incredibly well acted, and while told in the first person, there is no reason to worry about shaky cam, or any of the other tropes that are often found within that genre. It is simply used as another way for June to detach herself from those around her.
The ending is cryptic, but enough questions are answered to provide a satisfying finish. I was actually surprised at how uplifting I found the ending to be. It’s definitely a movie I am looking forward to seeing again, and hope to understand even more on the second watch around. Finding a copy of The Midnight Swim may prove difficult, but if you can, I suggest you watch it. It’s definitely an indie movie worth devoting an hour and a half to.