Director Bryce McGuire And Star Wyatt Russell Take A Dip Into NIGHT SWIM

From short to Blumhouse feature.

By Michael Gingold · January 2, 2024, 5:00 PM EST

Just as they did last year with M3GAN, Blumhouse and Universal are kicking off the year with a new horror film touching on a commonplace childhood fear. Just as there’s often something creepy about dolls, who among us did not, at some point in childhood, take a swim in a pool—especially after dark—and get the sense that something in the depths of the water might grab us? That’s the feeling writer/director Bryce McGuire is after in Night Swim, opening this Friday, January 5, based on the popular short McGuire created with Rod Blackhurst (Here Alone).

The Night Swim feature stars Wyatt Russell as Ray Waller, a major league baseball player whose career has been sidelined by multiple sclerosis. (It’s apt casting, as Russell’s father Kurt and grandfather Bing were both involved in pro ball, and Wyatt himself was both a college and professional ice hockey player before he had to leave the sport due to injuries.) When Ray and his wife Eve (Kerry Condon from The Banshees of Inisherin) and their kids Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren) move into a new house with a large backyard pool, the water at first seems to have a therapeutic effect on Ray. But a mysterious presence in the pool begins to take an insidious hold on his psyche and threatens the lives of his family. FANGORIA spent some time with McGuire and Russell to discuss the movie, its character-based approach to terror, and the challenges of aquatic filmmaking.

Was the NIGHT SWIM short always intended as a kind of proof of concept for the feature?

BRYCE McGUIRE: Honestly, it wasn’t. It was me and my buddy Rod Blackhurst goofing around in a pool at night in the Valley, and being like, even though we’re adults, why do we still feel that thalassophobia that we used to feel as kids when we thought the shark from Jaws was going to rise up beneath our toes and take us down? We thought, let’s see if we’re alone in that, or if we can capture that feeling. And we made the short and found out that a lot of other people still felt that irrational fear about the pool.

Then for about three years, people would ask me, “Is there a feature? Is there a feature?” And I was like, “No, fuck off [Laughs]. What’s the story there?” Until I came at it from the character angle: Who is this family, what do they have to gain from trying to start their life over, what do they have to lose? Then a couple of mythology things just kind of clicked, and I felt there was enough meat on the bones to pursue it. But it was not a given. The bad version would have been a repetitive boo!-in-the-pool movie, and I didn’t want to make that, and had to wait until the right moment.

Wyatt, did you ever have those kinds of fears as a child?

WYATT RUSSELL: I think everybody has, in a way. We had a pool, and we had a skimmer, and at nighttime, when the skimmer would go off, you’d be like, hang on–is there someone in the pool? It’s almost fun to have those fears as a kid, so I definitely had my fair share.


Wyatt, baseball runs in your family, so how did that influence the way you approached the role? And Bryce, did it have any bearing on how you conceived and cast the part?

WR: Yeah, everyone in my family seems to have played pro ball, and that was nice, because with every character I play, rooting it in some form of reality is the key to making all the other stuff either scary or more poignant or whatever it is you’re going for. So that was very important, especially for Ray’s motivation of getting back to playing baseball and reclaiming who he was, and creating a reality in that. Bringing whatever I could in terms of being a baseball player was important to the character and the family story.

BM: I loved Wyatt’s work beyond any of that knowledge, but knowing his background as a professional athlete, and that he’s a very good one—he can swing a bat, he’s very convincing—that helps a lot to sell the reality that this guy actually had this profession. But more important to me was the psychology of how hard it is for someone to walk away from something they’ve sacrificed so much for, and spent so many years dedicating themselves to. That’s the wound, that’s the weight that Ray is having to balance, that’s pulling him back in. From my very first conversation with Wyatt, we talked a ton about what it is like trying to leave this activity that you’ve given so much to.

WR: It’s like a drug; you can’t just quit cold turkey. It’s hard, and I had that experience playing hockey, where you can’t get that high back, so if there was ever a way to sort of magically take a pill, or jump in a pool, to get that high back, you’re gonna do it.

Wyatt, can you talk about working with the actors playing your family, and creating that dynamic together?

WR: Part of what was so exciting about going to work on this was Kerry Condon, who’s one of the best actresses out there. When you have her to play off of, it makes your job pretty easy. The kids were great, and it was fun to be in one location for most of the shoot. That makes it easier to bond and have laughs. Late at night, when it gets hard, it helps when you know people on the level you do when you stay in one spot. You feel like you have places in the house you can go to have a chat or a private moment. Kerry’s a godsend, and being able to do this type of movie with her—we knew what kind of movie we wanted to make. It was going to be more than just a horror flick, and have real elements of family that needed to be believable. Working with good actors and good direction makes that very easy.

This is an unusually character-oriented mainstream horror film. Was that an easy pitch to the producers or the studio?

BM: They were supportive the whole time, from the moment we brought it to Blumhouse. They don’t make one type of film, right? From Get Out to The Black Phone to things that are more fun, like Happy Death Day, they run the gamut. I think they saw this as a family-themed horror movie, and they just owned it. I never got pushback on that, which was very important to me—to all of us. I hope it’s also thrilling and entertaining and takes people on a rollercoaster ride, but we always cared about the character stuff, and I’m proud that made it through the gauntlet into the movie you saw.


Water is always a difficult element to deal with in a movie, even in a contained situation like a swimming pool, so what were the challenges of working with it here?

BM: I’d done it before, so I should have known better [laughs]. I didn’t. I’m a glutton for punishment! But the difference here was that all the actors, before they were cast, had to go through a basic swim assessment just to make sure they weren’t going to be in danger. We knew that without strong swimmers in the cast, we’d never get through principal photography. We’d kill the schedule. So everyone came in being pretty proficient in the water, and we worked with the best stunt/water team in the world. These were people who were coming right off of Avatar: The Way of Water, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mad Max, so we were in very good hands. Wyatt, Kerry, and the kids, Amélie and Gavin, all did a bunch of swim training and breath work and stuff like that throughout the course of production. Kerry especially, because she had to do some serious swimming, and keep her eyes open underwater for a long time and a lot of physically challenging things. She was an absolute legend at getting that done, and it was no problem for Wyatt. The man’s a fish!

WR: Yeah, no issues. Any time you see Night and Swim in the title, and they’re the only two words in the title…

BM: You know you’re fucked!

WR: You know what you’re going to be doing. It’s like that Airplane! line: “They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into!” That’s how I felt about this, so when it came time to do some of the more hardcore night swimming in the pool, the producers were unbelievable and heated the water up to about 98 degrees. It was actually more comfortable in the pool than it was out of the pool. Where it gets tricky is when you have to get in and out, in and out, in and out. That gets a little funky, and of course I got sick at one point, but it was all part of the experience. It all came out on screen, everyone was real troopers, and they made it as comfortable as I could imagine that much working in a pool could be.

BME: The nights in Southern California in the spring are not warm, even if the pool is, so I’ve really got to give it to my actors for being tough and gutsing it out there. I mean, water’s a pain in the ass. The cool thing about it is that no one’s acting underwater; they’re trying not to die! So there’s an urgency; it’s almost like shooting a film back in the day, and you cannot fuck around. You only get a few chances, your body can only do so much of that before you burn out, so every take felt urgent. Water is unpredictable, and you don’t know how it’s going to interact with the talent, how it’s going to interact with the lens, how it’s going to interact with the light. So even though it can be difficult, I love shooting in water because magic happens, and you get that primal feeling that you’re in this life-and-death element. That comes through in the performances and in the experience of watching it.

WR: And also, when you read the script, you know that there’s a cinematic opportunity with the water, and [cinematographer] Charlie Sarroff, who I’d worked with on a movie before [Broke], was unbelievable at making it look special and otherworldly and unique and scary, and also docile at times, when it needed to be. I thought they did a great job of making the pool a character.

BM: Yeah, that was always the goal. We spent weeks experimenting with water caustics, like the ripply waves of light you see on the side of the house. How thin are they, how quickly do they move, how do we create them? It’s crazy how much went into bringing that pool to life, but Charlie and Ian Takahashi, our underwater DP—all of them just smashed it. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

How about working with makeup effects in the water? Did you have to make any specific adjustments for that?

BM: We did. Doing prosthetic and creature work in water is a completely different beast because the silicone will fall apart, the makeup will kind of bloom, and everything will turn on you. We had Fractured FX on board, they’ve worked with James Wan on a bunch of different movies, and they’d had experience doing Swamp Thing, which was very water-centric, and The Conjuring 2, which had a lot of underwater elements, too. They knew the pitfalls and the techniques, so everything went pretty smoothly.

WR: They also did this little movie called Aquaman; maybe you’ve heard of it [laughs]. There was a bit of water in that!