Exploring ‘Night Swim’ And Its Connection to Invisible Illnesses

Night Swim

In Night Swim, the latest horror flick from powerhouse horror studio Blumhouse, we dive into a chilling tale of a deadly swimming pool hellbent on wreaking havoc on a family. While it hits the familiar notes you’d anticipate in a horror movie focused on family issues, it takes a unique turn by shedding light on the challenges faced by those experiencing invisible illnesses. A topic rarely explored outside of medical dramas. 

Night Swim starts by introducing us to Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell), a former MLB player who is forced to retire after being diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) a degenerative disease that “impacts the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, which makes up the central nervous system and controls everything we do” (National MS Society). For someone like Ray, whose world revolved around the strength and agility that comes with being a baseball player, an MS diagnosis is a devastating blow. 

Upon his diagnosis, Ray and his family move into a new house that happens to boast a stunning swimming pool. Knowing the benefits of water therapy, a well-known aid in muscle rehabilitation, Ray sees this as a potential way to reclaim his former self. Excited by the possibilities of what this pool could do for his health, he focuses on getting it up and running. However, it’s not long before something seems amiss after Ray accidentally cuts his hand while fixing the pool. Brushing it off, he persists, excited by the notion that he could possibly go back to his old self. Little does he know, the pool has much more insidious intentions. 

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For those living with an invisible illness, Night Swim’s pool becomes the embodiment of evil. It symbolizes a potential cure, but with a catch. We come to understand that the pool’s water possesses a peculiar quality in that it can fulfill wishes, but only in exchange for a sacrifice. It preys on the vulnerable, exploiting their desires to satisfy its own cravings. The pool is keenly aware of Ray’s dependence upon it and that as long as the water is making him stronger then he won’t turn away from it. In a way, this offers a false sense of security not only for Waller but also for those in the real world who could benefit from water therapy. What better way to tease hope for those in pain than through the pool’s deceptive allure? 

Wyatt Russell, no stranger to the horror genre with roles in films like 2018’s Overlord and the recent AppleTV+ series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, takes on the character of Ray Waller in a way that resonates for those dealing with invisible illnesses. Russell portrays Waller as reluctantly vulnerable, embodying the inner struggle of having an illness against society’s views of how a man of his stature should be. For Waller, acknowledging this vulnerability means confronting his diagnosis and coming to terms with the harsh reality that he can’t control the impact of the disease on his life—a stark and brutal reminder that many facing similar circumstances can relate to.  

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With horror movies, many of us see our own struggles reflected in what the horror represents. Whether it’s an incurable illness, a mental health crisis, or other challenges, horror speaks to those who’ve faced the darkest aspects of life. Night Swim creates a double-edged sword in that even when it becomes evident that something is seriously wrong with the pool, Ray persists in trusting that the water will continue to heal him. He’s willing to go to any lengths for a cure, regardless of the deadly consequences that may follow. To an extent, the film captures the complex nature of hope, fear, and the desperate pursuit of relief from an invisible force taking over our bodies. 

When we reach the end of the film, the family has come to realize the pool is a supernatural entity seeking to devour souls. After the water possesses Ray, he fights fiercely to protect the pool, even physically battling his own family. But once the possession subsides, he is confronted with the realization that someone must be sacrificed to satiate the pool’s craving. Not wanting his family to be the ones to go into the belly of the beast, Ray steps in to become the sacrificial lamb himself. 

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For those living with an incurable illness, the reluctance to burden loved ones is a familiar struggle. Unable to do everything as they once did, they rely on friends, family, or medical support to help navigate a world not designed for disabilities. As someone who has dealt with a cacophony of invisible illnesses, witnessing Ray taking on the sacrificial role both resonated and angered me. It made sense; he avoids being a burden and becomes a martyr for his children. While noble, a part of me wanted a different outcome where he survives, triumphing over adversity and forging a new path forward with his family despite his illness. A part of me wonders: if they had subverted expectations in this way could it have been a much more powerful alternative? 

In Night Swim, we learn that sometimes what we believe we need the most can transform into the demon we never wanted. Ray’s hope becomes my hope, and his anguish resonates with my own struggles. Despite the film not fully hitting the mark, it offered a sense of visibility. Identifying the “monster” as a potential cure for an incurable disease was unexpected and terrifying. The film is also a reminder that just because something isn’t physically visible doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, whether it’s an invisible illness or a supernatural occurrence. It emphasizes the importance of acknowledging experiences beyond our own and listening to those with different stories. Perhaps, like water, understanding these perspectives can help us navigate the depths of empathy and make waves for positive change and visibility for those suffering with invisible illnesses. 



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