Director: Just Philippot
Release Date: August 6, 2021
Duration: 1h 41min
‘The Swarm’ is a fantasy horror film directed by Just Philippot with the screenplay written by Jérôme Genevray and Franck Victor.
The French film premiered last year at the Angoulême Francophone Festival and was slated to appear at the International Critics’ Week at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, this did not happen because the festival was cancelled thanks to the Covid pandemic. On a brighter note, it is finally seeing an international release this month due to Netflix’s swift purchase of the movie.
But is it really worth the hype? ‘The Swarm’, titled ‘La Nuée’ in its home release, is a slow-burner. It is not your conventional horror movie like ‘The Conjuring’ or ‘Paranormal Activity’. There are no haunted houses, demonic possessions, or monsters. Well, at least not your conventional monster à la ghouls, vampires and ghosts. The ‘monster’ in question is a swarm of hungry locusts who have developed an appetite for blood.
The French film seems to have joined a fairly recent trend in horror films such as ‘Hereditary’, ‘Midsommar’, ‘The Invitation’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’. All these films have traded in cheap jump scares for a slowly creeping sense of dread and discomfort instead. These are critically well-received films, play in mainstream film festivals, are slow-paced, and are considered to have deep and meaningful plots. They have symbolism and meanings to them, pushing many in the cinephile crowd to discuss and decode these movies for Easter eggs and ‘secret messages’. ‘The Swarm’ is something like this too. It is a sensitively written film about a grieving widow named Virginie and her daughter and son who live in the French countryside. They used to live at a goat farm, but after the father was found dead among goats (it is never revealed to us how exactly he died), the family moved far away to an open space where the mother cultivates locusts to essentially make high-protein wheat. There is noticeable tension in the household as the mother and her children, especially her teenage daughter Laura, do not communicate clearly to each other about things that truly matter. Sure, they talk about the farm and the maintenance. But when it comes to discussing their past and the effect the father’s death had on the family, or the true nature of these dangerous locusts, there are no words. Just crickets. The tension in the family is boiling over and so is the daughter’s resentment and anger towards her mother. Perhaps the increasingly hungry and chaotically deadly locusts in the labs next to the house are symbolic of the mental state of these family members.
It is admirable to see a horror movie that does not rely on the supernatural to scare its audience but does what it can with only the scientific, material world. The writers of ‘The Swarm’ recognize the horror of nature, of hunger, and the seeking of flesh, to convey horror, disgust and an incessant feeling of unease to the viewer.
The open space cinematography is splendidly beautiful. But much of the empty space also makes us feel anxious, for if a space is empty…. it can also be filled to the brim by a swarm of something deadly. The score by Vincent Cahay will also add to the unease, and when nothing truly scary is going on, Cahay still manages to make one feel sombre and sad for the long-suffering mother.
It is a warning that there are some disturbing shots of bloody bodies, gaping wounds and all kinds of creepy crawlies that might make you have nightmares for several nights. Some scenes of self-harm and self-biting remind one of 2016’s outstanding French-language horror, ‘Raw’ (directed by Julia Ducournau). The cannibal film certainly has some similarities to ‘The Swarm’ but ‘The Swarm’ also retains some originality in its plot.
However, the conclusion seems a bit messy and the various threads of the story do not neatly tie together in a truly satisfactory way. The ending feels too abrupt. The ambitious concept of storing thousands upon thousands of frustratedly hungry and blood-thirsty bugs inside a tent quite close to a town gives one many possibilities to explore: plagues, purgings, natural disaster, crop failure, government interference, military control, mass deaths. But ultimately, the plot doesn’t really go crazy as it should. ‘The Swarm’, eventually plays it safe and realistic, but not without teaching us some lessons about trauma, communication and sacrifice.
‘The Swarm’ is now streaming on Netflix.
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