Swimfan Review

Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) and Amy Miller (Shiri Appleby) are high school sweethearts. They’re made for each other, and everything in the garden is rosy - the one cloud on the horizon being that they may have to move to different universities soon. But they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and it seems clear that they’ll be able to cope with this minor setback. But one night in the school swimming pool Cronin, a swimming champion, meets up with sexy blonde cellist Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) and ends up teaching her more than just the breaststroke. The next day he brushes the whole thing off as a simple one-night stand - but Madison has other ideas. Having seen the odd ‘80s revenge thriller, she starts harassing him with ‘phone calls and emails and generally making his life a misery. His previously steady relationship with Amy goes off the rails and his career as a swimmer is besmirched. And then, well, things get really nasty.

Now let’s be clear about this from the word go - there’s absolutely nothing new about Swimfan. It’s a straight remake of the 1987 box-office shocker Fatal Attraction. Well, all right, ‘rip off’ would perhaps be more accurate. But then, don’t forget, the latter film was itself based heavily on the over-rated Clint Eastwood psychodrama Play Misty for Me. So bearing in mind that there is no such thing as a new story, how well does this 21st century remix stand up?

Surprisingly well, in my opinion. Having never heard of it prior to its DVD release (although I have vague memories of seeing the trailer), and therefore not holding any preconceptions as to its merit or otherwise, I’m pleased to report that I found the whole thing quite acceptable. There’s much to be said for an unoriginal story done well - be it a film, book or TV programme - and Swimfan is arguably an accomplished piece of work. The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is impressive, and the central sequences in the swimming pool are beautifully, almost luminously, shot. Colours are often muted, and there is a preponderance of rusty browns and oranges that suggest an autumnal feel to the whole picture. John Polson’s direction is assured, with a good eye for composition and a bare minimum of tricksy camerawork. My one criticism is that he over-uses the technique of jump-cutting for key scenes, so that what starts out to be an interesting experiment soon becomes annoyingly distracting.

Acting from the main players is not especially strong, but then neither is it anything to be ashamed of. Shiri (Roswell) Appleby doesn’t stretch her abilities much playing the doting girlfriend, but Jesse Bradford is fine as the squeaky-clean Boy Next Door who’s tempted by the Dark Side. The temptress herself, Erika Christensen, gives the most memorable performance in the movie as psychotic stalker Madison Bell (does she have a sister called Liberty, I wonder?). Possessing the body of a younger Drew Barrymore, coupled with the mind of Glenn Close (or at least her character from Fatal Attraction anyway!), Christensen brings a fascinating, almost tender, quality to what, on paper, is nothing more than a stereotyped vamp. The swimming coach is played by Dan Hedaya, who gives the same bug-eyed loony performance he gives in everything, from Cheers to Alien Resurrection.

There are plenty of things to look out for. A particularly effective moment is when Ben goes swimming and bumps into an old friend. The crucifixion imagery at the end is a nice touch too (although you can clearly see the ‘dead’ Bell moving her legs). Music is supplied by the ever-reliable John Debney (Doctor Who, Cats and Dogs) who adds a menacing strings-heavy accompaniment to many of the scenes. Water has always been a favourite staple of horror-films - perhaps it’s the mix of sensuality and defencelessness? - and Polson’s beautifully lit pool scenes pay homage, consciously or not, to Val Lewton’s 1942 masterpiece, Cat People.

The film is not without its humour, intentional or otherwise. A little boy hijack an intimate moment between co-stars by waving manically in the background, while one of the indications that Madison Bell’s brother Dante (James DeBello) is a geek is that he owns an Apple Mac! (Well, it makes a change from a model train set.) And in case anyone doesn’t fully appreciate the links with Fatal Attraction, pay attention to the ‘Special Thanks to Michael Douglas’ credit at the end - now what would that be for, I wonder?

So, Swimfan (stupid title) is certainly not original, but it is acceptable. It’s far better than many over-hyped films I’ve had to sit through, and at least you have to applaud the brief running time and lack of any obvious padding. To me, a film succeeds for a variety of reasons. The fact that Swimfan provides 81 minutes of reasonable entertainment (how I wish some other films were that short!) is enough to for me to give it the thumbs-up. It’s not great art, but like the advert says, ‘It does what it says on the tin’.

The DVD transfer is excellent, with the atmospheric pool scenes making the most of the disc's rich colour palette. The 5.1 sound is a welcome addition, although occasionally some of the quieter dialogue disappears under the music score.

As to the extras, well, there’s nothing particularly original about them either. A theatrical trailer (2:07) gives you the whole plot in microcosm, TV and Radio Spots (totalling 1:04) are less of the same, and there is a typically shallow making-of featurette entitled ‘Girlfriend from Hell’ (9:57) that is little more than an extended advertisement. There are a handful of deleted scenes (11:53) - some totally new and some extended from what’s already in the film - and mostly these expand on character rather than plot. You can watch them with or without commentary, and I recommend doing both. Even if commentaries don’t interest you, the reasons why scenes are cut from the finished film are often as fascinating as the scenes themselves. There’s a very cheeky homage to Fatal Attraction involving Ben’s pet dog that sadly didn’t make it into the final print. But, like a lot of films, most of the scenes here were excised because they didn’t add anything to the plot. As you’d expect with this feature, the quality is poor - sub-VHS and with no music or sound effects added.

A commentary with director John Polson and co-stars Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen is the main extra on offer, and it’s likeable enough. The three of them chatter away with nary a pause, and although some scenes receive scant comments, such as the swimming pool seduction scene, the observations - especially by Polson - are often quite illuminating. The lack of air-conditioning during the Harlem swimming pool location shoot, improvised dialogue during some scenes, and a change to the final ending are some of the topics touched upon.

Swimfan is an entertaining movie that doesn’t demand too much from the viewer. The story may be familiar, but it’s nice to see it being tackled with professionalism and not a little bit of style.

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