A mysterious death tests the relationship between three half-sisters in this eerie, genre-blending feature film debut from director Sarah Adina Smith in The Midnight Swim. Part mystery and part drama, the film tows the thematic line while keeping a cohesive and familiar feeling. Shot from the point of view of one of the sisters (acting as a documentarian), the feel of the film is extremely personal and intimate, a tried, yet welcoming concept that sets this film apart from the rest.
After the drowning of their mother in Spirit Lake, a lake familiar to the girls growing up, as their mother was an activist for its conservation, the three sisters reconnect at their childhood home to bring closure to her untimely death. The personalities range from sister to sister, making it easy to identify with at least one of them; Annie (Jennifer Lafleur) is the oldest and the mature one of the group. Isa (Aleksa Palladino) is the free spirited one whose talks of reincarnation form a central theme within the film. Lastly there’s June (Lindsay Burdge), who we don’t literally see much because she is the one “documenting” the film as it unfolds. This strong female cast produces engaging performances that translate over the films varying themes.
This strong female cast produces engaging performances that translate over the films varying themes.
While reconnecting with each other after living separate lives for the past few years, the sisters hear about a small-town folklore of the tale of the seven sisters. The legend goes that all seven sisters drowned in Spirit Lake while trying to save each other after a late night swim. Their souls are represented in the sky as stars, but eerily enough, there are only six stars visible to the eye, bringing up questions about that “seventh” sister- like perhaps she still remains at the bottom of the lake. It’s haunting, and the girls spend a large amount of time working together trying to figure out if this story is true, and if it could have anything to do with their late mother.
An important thread that runs through the film is Isa’s belief in reincarnation. She explains, more than once, that before one is born, your soul has to cross over the river of forgetting, which wipes its memory clean of the life it had just lived. Then, one goes on to the next life and this process keeps happening until all of life’s lessons are learned. It’s a very meta idea and serves as a cause for contemplation on the part of the audience.
There is one moment in the film that I can only equate to the visual of nails on a chalkboard. In between somber moments of self-reflection at the dock of the lake and subdued quietness, Smith decides it’s a good time to incorporate a dance break into the film. Set to the New Seeker’s song, “Free To Be You and Me,” the girls lip synch and sing into the camera, dancing like girls without a care in the world. While it’s a cute scene, it comes at completely the wrong time and will take anybody out of the moment.
The Midnight Swim is a good first attempt from Sarah Adina Smith, after all she chose a fantastic cast and visually, the film is stunning. Unfortunately, the direction seems weak, or even lost at times; a stronger script could have helped guide her toward mastering the simplicity the film desperately needed. However, I definitely wouldn’t write off this film, there are a lot of little gems to be appreciated.