The Swerve Movie Review
Written by Rebecca McCallum
Released by Spark Chamber
Written and directed by Dean Kapsalis
2018, 95 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest UK premiere on 31st August 2020
Azura Skye as Holly
Bryce Pinkham as Rob
Ashley Bell as Claudia
Zach Rand as Paul
A woman drives through city streets with bloodied, bandaged hands as a biblical score elevates the scene and compels us to find out what events preceded this. Holly (Azura Skye), is a woman who's fraying at the edges but still managing to somehow keep everything together. As we watch her juggle managing a household, doing all she can to make her family happy and hold down a job as an English teacher, it is clear that she is simply going through the motions. Over time, we realise that Holly is being systematically shut out by everyone around her with only one of her students, Paul (Zach Rand), showing any kind of compassion. Surrounded by a husband whose only interest is in his own hedonistic enjoyment and two sons who barely acknowledge her presence, it really feels that we are watching Holly fade from existence.
She is shown taking medication at several points in the film and there are clear undertones of a battle with an eating disorder for many years, all of which add a strong urgency to a wish for someone to show her some humanity. This seems to come in the form of Paul, who she discovers is drawing erotic sketches of her in class. While the dynamic of their relationship presents obvious conflicts, some of the film’s most beautiful moments exist between the pair. There is also the issue of a mouse infestation in the house with Holly attempting to trap them and the tiny, helpless rodent she finds one day acting as a metaphor for her own hopelessness.
Around the dinner table with her extended family, we witness her being humiliated and mocked in the cruellest way that only those closest to you can do. As the family snuggle together closely in shared laughter at a tv programme, Holly washes the dishes alone before slipping out unnoticed. It’s during her drive amongst the dark, Lynchian roads that an incident occurs that acts as a catalyst for what follows. From here, the tragedy escalates and successfully hoodwinks you into thinking you know in which direction things are heading. Therefore, when the conclusion comes not only is it unexpected, but it truly makes the flesh turn cold.
Performances vary but Azura Skye is exceptional as the downtrodden Holly and Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) gives a minor but memorable turn as her sister, Claudia who, despite being reckless and hurtful, also evokes a certain amount of pathos. The score haunts the entire film without feeling overbearing as it graduates from soft and emotive strings to quick and brutal percussion. From the slowly panning Kubrickian style shots of the school corridor to the emergence of light cast over the body of a dead mouse, the cinematography is both beautiful and engaging.
With a washed-out palette of blues and greys, (reminiscent of Antichrist and It Follows) Director Dean Kapsalis succeeds in making the visual experience reflect the pain and hopelessness of Holly’s story that bleeds slowly but constantly from the film. As a result, the expectations of what are able to endure are duly challenged (similar to Ari Aster’s Hereditary) and just when you are sure you cannot take any more, Kapsalis heaps on another spoon of devastation.
The film’s title is wholly fitting and yet wonderfully ambiguous in that it references a pivotal incident but could also be an allusion to the choices Holly is faced with or that she is constantly being swerved by others. The Swerve is a deep and heart-breaking tale of what it means to be constantly on the outside and how, despite being surrounded by others, loneliness can exist in a very real and affecting form.
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