When a film starts slow, there’s always a fear that the pay-off may not be worth waiting around for. The Swarm certainly takes its sweet time to show its hand, but what a hand that turns out to be.
This review of the Netflix film The Swarm (2021) contains no spoilers.
The Swarm follows Virginie (Suliane Brahim), a single mother of two teenage children struggling to provide for her family through her work as a locust farmer. With her livestock numbers down and after repeatedly failing to keep her customers happy with her produce, it looks like Virginie might need to find another line of work, until she makes a discovery that changes the game, with eventually disastrous consequences.
It is important to point out straight off the bat that this is a film that builds slowly — something that I’ve found to be the case with a lot of French horrors. The Swarm is, stylistically at least, quite similar to Raw. It takes its time creating a brooding atmosphere, but 100% delivers when it decides to get nasty. Add to that how stunning the film looks and it’s not hard to see how one could make such a comparison.
For me, The Swarm’s biggest asset is its cinematography. Whether it was illustrating how isolated Virginie was; ratcheting up the sense of ever-increasing dread as she scaled her farm up, knowing full well something like this could only end badly, or even just showing gnarly close-ups of the locusts themselves, the visuals were put to excellent use. So much so, in fact, that even with the film on mute I think the impact would have been much the same. It really did paint a very detailed picture.
Whilst the film is slow to get going and continues to be in places throughout, it was forgivable because it didn’t shy away from images of pure, unadulterated terror when the time came. These were always shots that were rough to look at, to begin with, but which were made worse because they always seemed to remain on-screen for a few more frames than was comfortable. The fact that The Swarm’s subject matter had the power to make your skin crawl on sight was something that didn’t seem like such a major issue by the end of the film after it had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at you.
As for the film’s messaging, it seemed like it offered some sort of commentary on grief; that refusing to accept a situation would keep a person wrapped up in the destructive turmoil of it as opposed to being able to move on. Given that Virginie and her family were adjusting to life following the death of her husband, and how consuming everything to do with her farm became, I don’t think it’s a total reach to think that.
Despite spending some time worried that this film wouldn’t be for me given previous experience with French cinema, The Swarm left me pleasantly surprised. It really got under my skin with its deliberately drawn-out tempo, and always followed up with a full-frontal assault on the senses. I’m not someone who has any issues with little beasties, but the sheer amount on show here took its toll, so I can only imagine how much more unnerving the film could be for anyone who does. Whether you’re a bug freak or not, give this a whirl.
What did you think of the Netflix horror film The Swarm (2021)? Comment below.