Often, when watching a movie like The Swerve, which focuses on a woman who is falling apart, I ask myself, should a man really have directed this? Would this not be better in the hands of a female director? In the case of The Swerve, writer/director Dean Kapsalis handles the subject matter delicately; he knows he’s on precarious ground.
Similarly, with psychological horror and thrillers such as this, I ask myself why mental illness is at all brought into the equation. Our main character, Holly, played by a tired and brittle Azura Skye, is suffering. She’s suffering from insomnia, possibly an eating disorder, possibly severe depression. Rather than diving too deeply into any of these problems, Kapsalis casts his lens on how Holly’s pain is compounded by a lack of care and support from those closest to her.
Her husband, Rob, played by Bryce Pinkham, is absent at best, abusive at worst. He gaslights her and demands she have her meds checked when she attempts to confront him about something, rather than approach the issue with any care at all. Tension builds from the beginning of the film, and we see that Holly’s life is fraught with a quiet loneliness. There’s a scene where her husband encourages her to take a day off, to take some time for herself, and he and Holly’s two sons leave the kitchen an absolute mess, for Holly to clean up.
This is where Kapsalis gets it right, placing a glaring spotlight on the hundreds of tiny micro-aggressions women and care-takers are all too often subjected to, and taken for granted for. Holly’s children are rude and dismissive of her to a point that is frustrating and difficult to watch. From an outside perspective, it’s clear that Holly is just being walked on and abused, and Azura Skye shows us, quietly, just how much that can wear on a person.
The Swerve takes places over the course of a week, and at first, Holly’s life seems normal, even boring. Her husband is up for a promotion, her sister is in town, she drives the kids to school where she teaches, and it seems like her biggest problem may be how to afford an exterminator for the pesky mice in her home. It becomes clearer, though, that the issues go much deeper than that.
When Holly’s sister Claudia is introduced, at first there is hope that Holly will have a friend – someone she could talk to. Instead, Claudia, played by Ashley Bell, clashes with Holly – her energy and high pitch laugh completely clash with the film, and Holly’s, bleak demeanor. Claudia is your classic manic-pixie-addict-train-wreck, taking up the time and energy of Holly’s parents and the attention of her husband. It becomes clear at a family dinner that Holly is used to pushing her needs aside while her sister hogs the spotlight. It’s after this family dinner that the action of the movie begins to accelerate, and the titular swerve occurs.
The film reaches a tipping point, and Holly begins to act out in a way that is reprehensible and disturbing to watch. This plot point also makes it abundantly clear that Holly has lost control. All of the events of the film lead us up to an absolutely devastating climax, one that will be hard to forget. Whether you want to call this movie a domestic drama, thriller, psychological slow-burn, or horror, is up to you, but this 95 minute film seethes with the quiet rage and realistic horror of an unfulfilling, unloved life. Azura Skye’s fragile performance is both mesmerizing and heart breaking.
The Swerve will be available on VOD 09/22/2020.