All I ever want from my horror, in case you hadn’t guessed yet, is to be punched upside the jaw with a giant fist of prestige horribleness.
I mean, don’t get me wrong – I fully fuck with a good trashy horror too (or even a bad one), but the reason that this genre always pulls me back in is because I am constantly searching for that gloriously cathartic true terror that only the very best horror can deliver.
And that’s exactly what The Swerve, first-time full-length feature from writer-director Dean Kapsalis, promised. Echoes of Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (okay, I just wanted to talk about this movie – it’s also amazing) seemed to speak to another entry into the booming modern genre of mental illness as horror; Holly (Azura Skye) is involved in what seems to be a horrible car accident, but her own unravelling mental health and personal life throws everything she thinks that she knows into flux.
Now, first and foremost, let’s say this: The Swerve is one of the most confident and assured cinematic debuts I’ve seen in a long time. Kapsalis just has this eye for framing and colour story that brings The Swerve into this almost underwater unreality, drenched in sickly blues and greens, huge frames blasted with empty space with characters tucked away in far corners. He’s not afraid to give us those long, thoughtful takes that rely on actors to sell the central meaning instead of the mise-en-scene – and damn, with a cast like this, why wouldn’t he?
Azura Skye is one of those jobbing actresses you’ve seen around for years – Riverdale, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bones – but The Swerve gives her the gritty, harrowing central performance to really shine. Holly grapples with control and chaos within her own disintegrating family unit and within her own mind, and Skye brings this ugly, jagged roughness to the surface of her character while rarely letting the facade crack long enough for us to see through. When it comes to telling a story about mental illness, it seems many directors will jump straight to Homer in that one Simpsons Halloween special, but the truth is, most of us who deal with those problems have lives to get on with, and those breaks from what we try to portray are the hardest thing to capture on celluloid.
And as for the horror – The Swerve is ready to rely on nothing but the very real to deliver those scares. When it comes to prestige horribleness, this movie is one that lands its killer blow with no hesitation. Confident direction, great performances, and a commitment to unravelling the true horror of a great, well, unravelling, The Swerve is a superb addition to the grand pantheon of mental illness in the horror genre.
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By Louise MacGregor
(header image via IMDB)