VOD film review: The Swerve
Matthew Turner | On 22, Sep 2020
Director: Dean Kapsalis
Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell, Zach Rand, Taen Phillips, Liam Seib
Watch The Swerve online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
It’s always a pleasure when a perennial character actor is handed a lead role and knocks it out of the park. That’s what happens here with familiar TV face Azura Skye (most recently seen as Darla in Riverdale), who delivers an emotionally devastating performance in this debut feature from writer-director Dean Kapsalis.
Skye plays Holly, a high school teacher who’s married to supermarket manager Rob (Bryce Pinkham) and is routinely either ignored or snapped at by her two teenage sons (Taen Phillips and Liam Seib). Already stressed out by the return of her in-and-out-of-rehab sister Claudia (Ashley Bell), Holly’s life slowly starts to unravel after she sees a mouse in her home. But is it all in her head? And will her family even notice?
Kapsalis’ script is beautifully structured, starting with a small thing (literally) and constantly chipping away at Holly’s sanity until there’s nothing left. It’s especially chilling that many of her problems are all too familiar, from a frustrating family dinner (in which Ashley insists on retelling a humiliating story) to crippling insomnia.
The swerve of the title can be taken as metaphorical, but it also refers to an incident that occurs in the film, where Holly convinces herself she’s responsible for a tragic car accident. This is used to impressive effect – the guilt she feels is bad enough, but the real horror comes from the chilling lack of sympathy in her family, and the way she’s completely ignored when she tries to confess to her husband.
Skye is terrific as Holly, delivering an intense performance that’s almost painful to watch, as she gradually becomes more and more frazzled before our eyes and we slowly realise that no one is going to give her the help she needs. Credit is also due to the make-up artist, who does a terrific job with the incremental stages of Holly’s deterioration.
The supporting cast are excellent too. Pinkham is cheerful and bland as Rob, a deliberate choice that only makes him more frustrating. Bell is superb as Ashley, the sort of family member who can be horrifically mean while still smiling at the dinner table.
There’s also a standout turn from Zach Rand as Paul, a teenage student of Holly’s and supermarket employee of Rob’s, whose feelings for his teacher lead to an exquisitely awkward car park encounter. Part of the film’s tragedy is that Paul is the only person who sees how unhappy Holly is, but their relationship only pushes her further over the edge.
It’s only fair to warn that the film doesn’t pull any punches. As such, there’s a crushing inevitability to the final act, which is both depressing and difficult to watch. If you can make it through that, this is worth seeing for Skye’s brutal performance and it will be fascinating to see what Kapsalis does next.