Holly is barely treading water in a thankless domestic grind of debilitating mundanity. Her husband is obsessed with promotion, her two boys treat her servitude with dismissive contempt and her sister is a trolling timebomb of boozy spite. Juggling her roles as teacher, mother, wife and homemaker leaves her precious little time to safeguard her own mental health.
We become rubber necking voyeurs in Holly’s struggles just as fresh pressure waves casscade upon the shorelines of her sanity. A bitey piss-taking mouse, a sketchbook of eroticised images of her confiscated from a student and not least a nightmarish encounter with dickheaded road hogs.
As the dark circles around her eyes widen, her frame of reference shrinks exponentially and Holly’s fragile ties with reality unravel in a devastating helix of tragedy.
Director Kapsalis takes brave risks with the pacing of The Swerve, placing his trust in the patience and resolve of the viewer to stay the course. Having said that, his film is so exquisitely acted, shot and scored that it is never a chore.
The day to day trials of Holly are depicted with meticulous precision and deliberate detachment, the camera often lingering around her with uncomfortable longevity. Accompanied by Mark Korven’s predatory soundscape, we are left in no doubt that an emotional landslide is coming.
Drawn into the likeable people-pleasers plight, we are eyewitnesses to the indifference she endures and all the little defeats that stack around her like bricks in a prison wall of sadness. The tone of the film is such that it makes us almost complicit in her heartbreaking freefall. A stroke of pure genius in a film that implores us to monitor the psychological wellbeing of the ones closest to us, even in the densest miasma of familiarity.
The Swerve shares some cinematic DNA with Gaspar Noé’s notoriously bleak I Stand Alone and Katrin Gebbe’s masterclass in nihilism Nothing Bad Can Happen. But here the horror movie blueprint is transposed more delicately, the groundedness of the narrative more nuanced and philosophically equitable.
On the surface, the titular swerve refers to a literal plot device that acts as an accelerant for the unspeakably harsh denouement. However, such is the intellectual depth of Kapsalis’ psychodrama, it is easy to see it as a reference to the early atomism of Lucretius and consequently as a metaphor for the generation of free will.
To unpack this stunning film any further, outside of its gorgeously constructed microcosm, would be to do its artistic integrity a disservice. Suffice to say, it is a viewing experience you may never fully shake off and a work that may sharpen your sympathies toward even the most derailed of fellow humans.
Anyone who has felt the crushing weight of depression on their shoulders will empathise with Holly’s pain, those that have not will gain a harrowing insight into the dense mechanics of abject melancholia.
Truly transgressive art rarely pulls punches and The Swerve is no exception as it aims squarely at the gut. Steel your sensibilities and board the cataclysmic anxiety ride of one of the most important and mortifying films of the last decade.
HORROR CHANNEL SCREEN – 7.00 PM – MONDAY 31ST AUGUST
Drama, Thriller | USA 2019 | 95 mins | Spark Chamber| Dir. Dean Kapsalis | With: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell