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Night Swim Creators Explain Why a Swimming Pool Is the Perfect Setting for a Horror Movie
Dive in with Night Swim executive producer Ryan Turek and writer/director Bryce McGuire.
In the world of horror, haunted things make the world go 'round. Dolls, cars, buildings, televisions, video cassettes... you name it, there's likely a horror film built around it. Except for swimming pools.
The release of Atomic Monster and Blumhouse's co-production Night Swim on January 5 is a rare horror film framed entirely around a pool as the location of supernatural peril and fear, which frankly is kind of shocking. Why has this symbol of suburban prosperity and warm weather fun not been overly exploited by the horror genre?
When NBC Insider posed that exact question to Night Swim producer Ryan Turek, he was just as confounded by the fact that his desk hasn't been a chlorine scented repository of pool pitches.
Night Swim creators on the lack of scary pool movies
"Obviously, there's that great scene with JoBeth Williams and Craig T Nelson in Poltergeist with the skeletons coming out of the pool," Turek said, while wracking his brain for other terrifying pool movies. "There was a great [Thai] horror film [The Pool] about a guy who is stuck at the bottom of an Olympic pool with an alligator which was a great movie that set me on edge. But in terms of tried and true haunted pool movies, I hadn't really seen it. I never really had any of those submissions come through, or anything like that."
In fact, it wasn't until James Wan's Atomic Monster recommended that Blumhouse read screenwriter Bryce McGuire's feature length expansion of his 2014 short Night Swim that an actual petrifying pool project got greenlit.
Turek said the script hit all the checkmarks they wanted to see internally at Blumhouse, with regards to balanced scares and drama. "We all looked at it and saw Bryce was really maximizing the use of this pool in so many different ways," he explained. "And at the same time, he told this great story of the Waller family that is moving into the house and the interfamily dynamics there."
Seeking water lore to create the spine of Night Swim
When McGuire was expanding his short into a feature film, he did a lot of research on what bodies of water have meant to cultures and religions throughout history. "Everyone has their version of the Cenote well, or the wishing well in more Celtic and Gaelic traditions," he said. "In the Bible, there's the healing waters of the Jordan River, or whatever [other] baptismal image. So, it was about digging into this cause and effect relationship in these different mythologies and traditions. I was really inspired by the relationship that people already have with water and what they think they can get from water."
McGuire said he used that research to build his own original mythology about the pool. And then there was the challenge of making a standard rectangle backyard pool scary and menacing to audiences, and creating the story of the Waller family of Ray (Wyatt Russell), Eve (Kerry Condon) and their two teen kids.
The shadow cast by Jaws on every body of water
McGuire said that he and his cinematographer C,harlie Sarroff, spent a lot of time getting creative with developing underwater lighting sources, creating a variety of underwater camera shots and getting inventive with lenses and where the camera rests, like right on the water line to make the Waller's backyard swimming pool feel bigger and menacing.
"Jaws looms very large over all of this so it was kind of asking ourselves, 'How do we make this contained body of water feel as expansive and as scary as what Jaws made the ocean feels like?'" McGuire explained. "Obviously, in some ways, we have less tools to work with and less size. But in some ways you have more tools to work with. Like you don't have a drain flap to reach into, in Jaws. And we do. Or being beneath the diving board and hearing someone above you, and you can't see them, but you could feel the water dripping off. If you start to look closely, there's some gifts that the pool gives you."
Diving into the psychology of water and the fear it brings out in people
Tapping into the psychology of the swimming pool was also key in harnessing the potential to cause fear in people. "All those [fears] were built on our collective sense memory of the pool; the nostalgia of the pool; the rules; the urban legends of someone getting their hair caught in the drain and held down there to be drowned to death," McGuire said of the darker aspects of swimming pool exposure.
"Or just like the way that at a pool party, something bad could happen and you wouldn't know. That's so scary," he emphasized. "As a parent now, that's a nightmare to have think of some kid at your party. It makes your skin crawl on this human level. So it was just kind of digging deep about what does the pool offer us to exploit and to kind of weaponize. And then choosing lenses that made the pool feel bigger than it was. And then putting us right in the water line where you're half in and half out, straddling two worlds. We had a lot of conversation about how to bring that [pool] character to life."
And then there were the practicalities of shooting in the water for the majority of the shoot, which was different for Blumhouse Productions. Turek said they shot on location in a Southern California suburban home with a backyard pool as well as in production water tanks.
"Safety was paramount," Turek said. "We used a practical pool which required a number of pool changes of water and chemicals that we were using. And then obviously when a member of the Waller family took the deep dive into the dark water, then we moved into tank territory. It was a handoff and a conversation in pre production between stunts and VFX trying to figure out what those transition moments were."
Plunge into the terrors of Night Swim starting today, January 5, exclusively in theaters. Get tickets now!