February 2017 marks the 8th annual Women in Horror month, celebrating the women in front of and behind the cameras making great horror. Horror as a whole remains a genre dominated by male filmmakers and dogged by misconceptions that the genre is inherently misogynistic, with found footage faring much the same. That is why here on Found Footage Critic, we’ll be taking this opportunity to spotlight a few of the female filmmakers putting their stamp on found footage.
Indie filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith’s directorial debut The Midnight Swim (2014) in many ways breaks the mold when it comes to the expectations of the found footage genre. Rather than a straight-forward horror movie, The Midnight Swim presents a nuanced family drama woven through with threads of the supernatural, evoking both deep emotion and a creeping sense of dread.
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The plot concerns three sisters returning to their childhood home following their mother’s death in a diving accident. As they work to settle affairs, memories from the past rise up to the surface, forcing the sisters to confront repressed conflicts and unhealed wounds. At the same time, the women begin to experience eerie phenomena possibly related to local legends surrounding the lake.
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The Midnight Swim is subtle, understated, and unsettling. Its ending is one that can provoke endless discussion and a wide range of interpretations. One of the film’s strongest traits is the way in which it portrays the relationships between mothers, daughters, and sisters. In its first scene, the movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and goes on to do so in nearly every subsequent scene, something exceedingly rare in film, including in horror. (The Bechdel test, created by cartoonist Allison Bechdel, measures whether a piece of media includes at least one scene in which two or more women have a conversation about something other than men, something that surprisingly very few stories do). It is refreshing to see in The Midnight Swim, such a female-centric horror film, not to say that men won’t enjoy the movie just as much.
Viewers expecting straight horror will likely be disappointed by the slow pace and minimal supernatural elements, but those willing to try something new and a bit strange will likely be pleasantly surprised and intrigued by The Midnight Swim.
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The Midnight Smith served as writer, director, and editor on The Midnight Swim, having previously co-written one feature film, but otherwise worked only on short films. The Midnight Swim won or was nominated for multiple awards, including the Breakthrough Audience Award at the American Film Institute’s 2014 AFI Fest. Since then, Smith seems to be continuing that breakthrough. In 2016, she contributed the segment “Mother’s Day” to the anthology horror film Holidays (2016). In the same year, she released her second feature film, Buster’s Mal Heart (2016), starring Rami Malik. Hopefully there will be much more to come from Smith.