EXCLUSIVE: While attending New York Comic Con, Vital Thrills was invited by Universal Pictures to speak with talented young filmmaker Bryce McGuire, who is making his feature directorial debut with Night Swim. The new supernatural thriller is coming to theaters on January 5, 2024.
The movie, which comes from Atomic Monster and Blumhouse (the producers of M3GAN), is based on the acclaimed 2014 short film by Rod Blackhurst and Bryce McGuire.
Vital Thrills: Night Swim is a little bit of a bottle idea in the sense that it has the one primary location. How do you not only stretch your short into a feature, but also keep it visually interesting and engaging when you’re just in that one central locale?
Bryce McGuire: It’s a good question. You have to find ways to… Well, number one, I’d say really go micro and dig into different aspects of the pool that you’re able to exploit. That’s one thing. Then also, without saying too much, you have to find a way to expand that so there’s an evolution of how that concept evolves.
There’s plenty to mine there if you’re drilling down and looking close at it. Then the concept also has to have enough juice to basically make it not just the same thing again and again, and this certainly has an escalation to it. I’ll just say that much.
Vital Thrills: Given that it’s such a simplistic idea, do you think there’s enough meat on the bones to expand it further and create a franchise out of it? Or do you simply see it as a one shot deal?
Bryce McGuire: We’ll see how it all goes with this, but I will say there is a big mythology behind the pool. There’s more story to tell, and maybe that story just ends up being the foundation that leads to this movie. It definitely will be interesting to see if there’s a possibility for more stories to tell.
Vital Thrills: A killer pool could easily go in a campy direction. Obviously there have been cult movies like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. How do you avoid that kind of camp factor?
Bryce McGuire: You’ll see. All I can say is “you’ll see,” but that was very much on my mind. Like, it could be that. Basically that’s why I didn’t want to even do a feature until I knew it was going to be more than that. Actually, I kind of love those movies like that, but that’s not what this is.
Vital Thrills: Does that give you a little bit of juice in the sense that you’re walking a precarious line?
Bryce McGuire: Yeah, it is, because we always knew there are things that are fun about playing with a haunted pool and even hitting the camp of that in moments, but it’s a little bit of a misdirect because there’s more. I always liked that.
A haunted pool on its face value? I’d be down with that, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the Death Bed version of that, right? This definitely goes way past that. The pool does offer a lot more than a bed, even on that surface level. And then we knew we needed more than that surface level.
Vital Thrills: And what was the biggest challenge? This is Blumhouse, so automatically you’re working under constraints. You don’t have an unlimited budget.
Bryce McGuire: The concept lends itself to that. It’s contained, as you said. It’s not contained strictly, there’s other scenes, other places and whatever, but it is fundamentally a pretty contained movie. It did make sense for this type of film, this model of film.
Vital Thrills: But no matter what your budget is, there’s always going to be obstacles that you run into. What was the biggest obstacle?
Bryce McGuire: Man, it’s the same thing for every film: just time. The water is really slow. You think you’ve budgeted enough time, but you haven’t. You’re always racing the clock. That’s the name of the game when you’re making a movie, but I feel like we made the right choices to get through the maze. It’s such a vague answer, but time -especially specific to water- was our biggest challenge.
Vital Thrills: It’s so funny because you hear all the stories about Jaws, Titanic, Waterworld… water is always a nightmare.
Bryce McGuire: Why did I not listen? I’ve actually done two other water shorts, and I knew it was horrible… Not horrible, I knew it was challenging and difficult and pain in the butt then, and yet I’m drawn to the water. I can’t get away from it. I can’t escape.
Vital Thrills: You just have to add dogs and children into the mix.
Bryce McGuire: Oh yeah, we had animals and children so we got it all, basically! Everything except guns, basically. (laughs)
Night Swim stars Wyatt Russell (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier) as Ray Waller, a former major league baseball player forced into early retirement by a degenerative illness. Waller moves into a new home with his concerned wife Eve (Oscar nominee Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin), teenage daughter Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and young son Elliot (Gavin Warren).
Secretly hoping, against the odds, to return to pro ball, Ray persuades Eve that the new home’s shimmering backyard swimming pool will be fun for the kids and provide physical therapy for him. But a dark secret in the home’s past will unleash a malevolent force that will drag the family under, into the depths of inescapable terror.
Night Swim is written and directed by Bryce McGuire and is produced by James Wan, the filmmaker behind the Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring franchises, and Jason Blum, the producer of the Halloween films, The Black Phone and The Invisible Man.
The film is executive produced by Michael Clear and Judson Scott for Wan’s Atomic Monster and by Ryan Turek for Blum’s Blumhouse.
Max Evry has been a film journalist since 2005, serving at various times as a writer, interviewer, graphic designer, podcaster, video creator, features editor, and managing editor. Past media outlets have included MTV, /Film, IGN, and Fangoria. For home video companies Arrow, Kino Lorber, Indicator, and Via Vision he has provided Blu-ray audio commentaries as well as featurettes for classic and contemporary films including “Flatliners,” “Blackhat,” and Best Picture Oscar winner “Marty.” In 2023 he released his first book “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune – An Oral History” to considerable acclaim.