Teens-In-Peril continues to be one of the most popular horror sub-genres, and adolescent mayhem is not limited to masked killers knocking off stereotypical characters one by one. Let’s face it, teenage life can be scary. With fears ranging from school exams to dating, to the question of what to do after graduation, filmmakers use countless tropes to transfer those nightmares to the screen. From old-school classics to modern, meta takes, teen horror spans the spectrum, focusing not only on movies aimed at a younger audience, but also those dark dramas that feature teen characters. This go-round, I’m taking a look at 2002’s Swimfan.
Over the years, Swimfan has been heavily touted as being something akin to a teenage version of Fatal Attraction. While that assessment is mostly true, the movie actually has a lot more going on below the surface. The entire film is an intelligently constructed statement on “letting go” and “escape”, as primarily seen through the eyes of the lead protagonist and the antagonist, Ben Cronin and Madison Bell, respectively. Amid the themes of making mistakes and being haunted by the past, Swimfan is notable for something else: the film was among the first teen thrillers to use social media as a means for stalking.
Swimfan stars Erika Christensen (Home Room), Jesse Bradford (Cherry Falls), Shiri Appleby (The Devil’s Candy), Clayne Crawford (TV’s Lethal Weapon), Jason Ritter (Freddy Vs. Jason), James DeBello (Cabin Fever), and Kia Goodwin (TV’s 227). The film was directed by John Polson from a screenplay by Charles F. Bohl and Philip Schneider. Swimfan was a box office success when it hit theaters on August 19, 2002, earning over three times as much as its $10 Million production budget.
A teenage character who harbors a dangerous and deadly obsession is a trope that seems to have been done to death, particularly throughout the 1990s. That decade alone presented two of the most recognizable and memorable entries in the sub-genre: The Crush (1993) and Fear (1996). Granted, the stalkers’ actions in both of those films prove to be as equally twisted as any of the tactics pulled in Swimfan, but Erika Christensen’s Madison character has more to her advantage than most high school stalkers that have come before her: the digital age.
Swimfan is one of the first big-release teen obsession movies to make use of what has since become the modern form of social media. Albeit, Madison doesn’t rely on Twitter or Instagram to unfold her dangerous and deadly game. 2002 was well-before each of those platforms became a common go-to for stalking. Despite a marketing campaign that relied heavily on computer technology, chat rooms and emails do not play a large part in the plot of the movie, but the devices are there. The early forms of social media seen on screen come across as dated. Even so, a lot of what’s featured in the film hints at things that have become commonplace in today’s society.
2002 was several years before it became commonplace for teenagers to carry cell phones. Instead, the characters in Swimfan rely on landlines and even payphones. As a precursor to present-day text messaging, lead character Ben keeps a pager in his pocket. The device is one that is able to receive text, and Madison is quick to make use of the opportunity by sending him messages asking why he hasn’t called her and, more ominously, one that asks “feel like a dip?” A new way to get in touch at any time is a stalker’s dream. Unfortunately for Madison, Ben‘s pager isn’t able to receive photos.
But Madison doesn’t let the obstacle keep her from being light years ahead of her selfie-sending counterparts of today. When Ben logs in to check his email, he notices he has a total of eighty-one messages, all of them from “Swimfan85″, Madison‘s online handle. One email in particular features a nude mirror selfie from Madison. With touches of more recent technology thrown into the mix, viewers are reminded of how easy it is for current cinematic stalkers to find info and photos on social media. In a time when it seems like everybody puts everything out for the world to see, the idea that it is now easier than ever to look in on someone’s private life is chilling. One scene near the end of the movie features a camcorder recording of a character’s confession, and while I was watching it I couldn’t help but think how quickly a video like that would be posted everywhere in the year 2020.
Swimfan is a memorable entry in the teen stalker/obsession sub-genre. John Polson’s direction and the production design make a perfect combo. The imagery is often presented in blue-tinted light, a color that reflects the movie’s overall water theme. Additionally, Erika Christensen and Jesse Bradford do a great job as the lead characters. Despite the dated technology, the movie holds up really well and is an extremely fun rewatch.
With the evolution of social media, stalking has taken on an entirely new level, and movies have had no problem keeping up with the changes. With more recent tech introductions like location services and tracking devices, stalking has become a much more elaborate game than ever. One can only imagine what a character like Swimfan‘s Madison Bell would do with the ability.
Are you a fan of Swimfan? Would you like to see an updated take that utilizes more modern social media technology? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!