It’s something we’ve all been plagued by: the pain that comes with living a mundane life. Whether we feel like we’re destined for more or even deserve more, modernity has failed us in a way we wouldn’t expect. You wake up and go to work in the morning; come home and eat dinner; maybe you have time to read a chapter of that book you’ve been longing to read; and then you go to sleep. You repeat the same steps the next day, and the day after that, until each day blurs into the other and you begin to question whether you’re even a real person anymore. Perhaps we’re just vessels meant to work until we die. But we can dream and we can yearn for a better life.
The Swerve (2020) is the directorial debut of Dean Kapsalis, and stars a phenomenal Azura Skye as Holly, a woman on the verge of a breakdown. From the beginning of the film, it’s clear she isn’t happy with her life: her husband ignores her, and her children treat her life as a robot who is only there to cook and drive them to school. She then goes to work, teaching English, and comes home to a sometimes empty bed. This repeats as the days go on. One day, Holly’s sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) comes home to visit, and it ignites an explosion of pain within Holly that causes her sanity to erode.
It’s quite unbelievable that this is Kapsalis’ feature debut. From the start, The Swerve oozes with melancholy, so heavy it seeps through the screen and leaves you almost empty inside. As we watch Holly go through the motions of her mundane life, it’s hard not to feel the pain she’s going through. As her mental stability begins to wane, the film becomes more jarring. It’s like Kapsalis allowed the film to hold its breath for hours, and with the last thirty minutes he finally allows it to scream. Holly’s descent is joined by composer Mark Korven’s haunting score. He’s no stranger to horror, and while The Swerve is quite different from The Witch and The Lighthouse, Korven utilizes strings in a way we’ve become familiar with. They creep in slowly until they harmonize with each other more sinisterly than any human choir could manage.
The Swerve is ultimately a story about a woman’s unbecoming. We watch Holly’s descent into madness, and the decline of the world around her as well. Her memories become delusions, and delusions become memories. At times it’s hard to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Did she really see that mouse in her kitchen? Are her complicated feelings towards a student of hers reflecting her actual sick desires? Or maybe everything Holly is experiencing is happening in her head, magnified for us to see her mental illness consuming her. In what may be the most thunderous and bleakest ending this year has to offer, Holly’s story comes to a close in the most unexpected way. Azura Sky finally unleashes everything that Holly has held in through the film, gut wrenching screams bouncing off the walls of her home, and solidifying Dean Kapsalis as a fantastic new director.