Movie Review: “The Midnight Swim” comes back up for air

“The Midnight Swim” is a modestly-spooky example of that mumblecore unicorn — “mumblecore horror.”

It’s a talk-talk-talk indie drama about the lack of closure when a mother drowns and no body was found, about mythology and reincarnation, all set at a lakeside home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota.

Whatever attention it earned upon release in 2014, it’s finally available on disc and streaming and is well worth a look.

Writer-director Sarah Adina Smith (“Buster’s Mal Heart”) sends three half-sisters (Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino) into the country, to their mother’s lake house to tidy up her affairs, bond and ponder the meaning of her life and death in a lake in which “nobody’s ever found the bottom.”

Annie (Lafleur, of “Take Back the Night” and TV’s “Search Party”) is the eldest, common-sensical and somewhat estranged from the mother who gave birth to them all, with different men as their fathers.

Isa, played by Palladino of “The Mandela Effect” and TV’s “The Loudest Voice,” is the moony-eyed middle sister, a bit airy fairy about “what Mom would have wanted,” what happened to her and what they should do with the house. “Art commune?”

And June (Burdge of “Black Bear” and “The Dark End of the Street”) is the youngest, the one we see little of as she’s “the family archivist,” videoing everyone and everything for a “documentary” about…whatever this is — a family coping with grief, disparate half-siblings bonding or breaking apart, a “mystery” that may have something to do with the myth of “The Seven Sisters.”

There’s a lad (Ross Partridge) that the oldest sister used to crush on. Now it’s Annie who figures “he might be good for me.” Annie grits her teeth over this. June? She just keeps on recording everything, unnerving some (like the realtor they consult), rattling others.

All the talk goes back to Mom’s personality, the different ways she related to each daughter, Mom’s passion for enjoying and preserving this lake, and reincarnation — a “River of Forgetfulness/River of Remembering” analogy that makes the daughters wonder if Mom’s oddball ad hoc belief system had some merit.

Then weird noises and bird deaths start happening, strange things turn up on camera, and the personalities of the three sisters are exposed and thrown into conflict because of it.

The “mumblecore” bonding elements here seem more rehearsed than is usual for the genre — a lip-synched music video to Mom’s favorite folk pop tune, a night of dueling impersonations of mom that is revealing and ugly.

And the spooky stuff, while understated, is effective. Something about being disoriented under water, a recurring visual motif, is no-budget scary.

Palladino is the stand-out in the cast, though each player carries off her “type” and corner of the story with affecting skill.

It’s not a great example of the genre (“Frances Ha”) or subgenre (“Baghead”). But “The Midnight Swim” demonstrates, yet again, that movies about fleshed-out characters with conversations that pull you in are a great way to tell a story with good actors and no money.

And you don’t need a nut-with-a-knife or murderous wraith makeup to give viewers chills.

Rating: unrated

Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino

Credits: Scripted and directed by Sarah Adina Smith. A Yellow Veil release.

Running time: 1:24

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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