Review by Sean Boelman
The domestic drama and thriller genres blend together shockingly well because of the way in which the mundanities of everyday life tend to slowly drive one insane, and Dean Kapsalis’s new film The Swerve dials into these common anxieties. And while the movie does struggle to balance too many moving parts, it’s a frequently unsettling mindbender.
The film follows a woman who seemingly has it all as her stable domestic life is upended when she begins to suffer from insomnia and increasingly troubling things start to happen. The movie definitely succeeds in making the viewer feel uncomfortable and disoriented, although it would have been nice had it settled on a more consistent tone, with some portions having a darkly comedic edge and others feeling disturbingly serious.
This is a very slow burn, the tension constantly mounting to a payoff that may or may not be worth the runtime that led up to it. There are short bursts in which the viewer will be caught off-guard, but some of these feel like they are more intended to shock than add something particularly constructive to the character arc.
One of the more challenging things about Kapsalis’s script is that the character isn’t traditionally likable. We sympathize with the protagonist’s frustrations, but not the way in which she expresses them. But the film doesn’t take an approach to the character that is morally ambiguous enough for it to be particularly thought-provoking.
The commentary on the self-destructive nature of people is really interesting. It’s not a hopeful or optimistic movie by any means, but Kapsalis questions why people engage in such harmful actions in the pursuit of goals that were once thought to have been achieved. When we are frustrated at the protagonist for her behavior, we are really expressing our frustration with ourselves.
Azura Skye’s performance is undeniably complex and a significant portion of what makes this film so effective. The character is written in such a roundabout way and yet Skye is able to cut to the emotional core of it. Even when the movie feels like it is on the edge of imploding, Skye draws meaning out of a scene that easily could have felt exploitative to make it feel essential.
In terms of execution, the film does feel a bit self-righteous. It’s definitely competent and even has some moments in which greatness and genuine creativity shine through. But too often it feels like the meticulously-planned work of someone who thinks they are the next big thing but are really only bringing slight alterations to the established formula.
The Swerve ultimately could have ended up either a lot better or a lot worse than it is. But thanks to Azura Skye, the glue that holds the whole thing together, it’s an interesting watch even if it is frustrating to think about what it could have been.
The Swerve is now available on VOD.