In Dean Kapsalis’ impressive psychological drama The Swerve a suburbanite loses her grip on reality, the catalyst for the descent into madness is a bite from a rodent and a recurring nightmare involving a car crash, which may or may not have happened in waking life.
On the surface, Holly (Azura Skye) has a nice family, a worthy job as a schoolteacher and nothing much to complain about. She’s living that branch of the American Dream situated on financial security, having a good home and rewarding career. Underneath this domestic bliss, however, is the Lynchian nightmare, the bubbling muck beneath the clean veneer.
Dissatisfaction gnaws away like a mouse nibbling on electric cables. It’s a rodent problem which begins Holly’s spiral into insanity. She’s bitten on the finger and worries she’s got rabies. Her home life, too, starts to unravel and we get a more revealing picture of the family dynamics at play and how isolated Holly feels surrounded by those who love her, or at least say they do.
As well as suspecting her husband is cheating, Holly must put up with her train wreck younger sister, Claudia (Ashley Bell), who commands—and receives—attention from everybody, while the older sibling increasingly feels invisible, past resentments between the pair erupt into the delivery of sharp words and home truths.
Holly is gripped by fears she’s fading away, not being wanted, suffers from a distinct lack of autonomy over her life, as well as being unable to connect to those closest around her. The husband eyes other women, is preoccupied with his job – or at least we think he is – and the kids just see Holly exclusively as ‘Mom’, as if her only role in life is to meet their every demand and put up with their teenage, bickering nonsense. She’s a woman lost and in danger of sinking. Nobody asks if she’s okay, that nobody seems to care is the sad truth.
Suburban suffocation, impending doom, a tragedy waiting to happen, The Swerve is a compelling depiction of existential angst, melancholy, and mental illness, with director Kapsalis opting for subtlety over big-scene meltdown histrionics and much to his credit. The lead is well played by Skye, whose delicate, gaunt features and haunted expressions serve to heighten the impression this woman is psychologically and physically becoming brittle.
FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio