I guess I will be opening today’s review with the almost obligatory “this is more of a drama than a horror” statement. It feels as though a lot of the horror movies I am catching nowadays want to skirt the line between being a serious drama and being something of a b-movie horror.
This is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes reviews and recommendations difficult. People want horror but how do you define that? It is already different for most horror fans so having such strong drama elements blurs the line even further.
Anyways, we work with what we are given so, with that in mind, today’s movie is the insect themed “horror movie” The Swarm from 2021.
If you have already watched The Swarm then why not check out our The Swarm Ending Explained article? Obviously the ending is fairly self explanatory but we do get a little deeper into it in the article. I also go over some of the plot holes and generally moan a bit. Do keep in mind that the article will feature spoilers. It is impossible to do these articles without recapping the plot. With this in mind, you probably want to avoid if you haven’t watched the movie.
Bugs are one of those things that we have a contentious co-existence with from an early age. It’s instilled in us by parents that you should swat a fly, squish a moth and stay the hell away from spiders. I am guessing the majority of people are somewhat repulsed at the sight of certain insects.
I, personally, have kept spiders and a few other inverts for a long time so, generally speaking, I am not too bothered by them. You get used to handling locusts, crickets, and various types of worms after awhile.
I do, however, still remember the trepidation when it came to handling a locust for the first time. As far as bugs go they are actually fairly nice looking. Their large eyes and bright colours make them a little less ick-inducing than crickets and the like. With that being said, insects, in general, are pretty creepy looking; it is a wonder more horror movies aren’t made featuring masses of insects. Just Philippot’s The Swarm aims to fill that niche and that is what we are taking a look at in today’s review.
The Swarm (La Nuée) is a French horror movie starring Suliane Brahim as Virginie, a single mum of two children living in rural France. Virginie and her husband, Nico, ran a farm raising goats up until Nico passed away. Since then Virginie has been attempting to keep things afloat by raising locusts for human consumption.
This is an industry with some legs (pun intended) at the moment as insects are low in fat and extremely high in protein. Take a trip down to your local health food store and you may find insect flour, cricket based protein bars and various products bulked with insects. Unfortunately, Virginie’s locust are not reproducing at a fast enough rate so she is only able to sell them to local farmers as feed for their livestock.
With bills rolling in and money evaporating, Virginie begins to lose hope. An enraged Virginie knocks herself unconscious while destroying the locust enclosures. When she wakes up she finds the locust feeding on the wounds on her arms. The next day Virginie notices that the reproductive rate of the insects has exploded. She puts two and two together and realises that feeding the bugs blood may be the solution to all her problems.
This is a pretty decent backbone for a movie. Well, a Lifetime movie that your Grandma would enjoy with a cup of tea and a couple of fig rolls. It is not the ideal plot for a horror movie. That is unless you are going deep into the whole “the monster is actually grief” crap. We already have Slapface and numerous other movies for that. Thanks Babadook for kicking that crap off a few years back. The real horror was the metaphorical grief movies we met along the way.
Despite not being the ideal horror movie premise, the story feels current and very in touch with the modern economical climate. The struggles of a single mother attempting to raise two children. The difficulty of making a decent life for them after the death of a partner is a solid idea. Virginie is easy to root for and fairly sympathetic.
What is perhaps a little more difficult to understand is Virginie’s reluctance to sell the farm. She is struggling to survive and making virtually no money. All of her problems would be solved by downsizing from a farm to a normal house and getting a job. I think we are to assume she is attached to the farm due to it being something she ran with her deceased husband. Even with this in mind it still feels like the first of a decent number of plot holes. These really begin to undermine The Swarm’s otherwise interesting story.
This is something that seems to be an issue throughout The Swarm. There are a number of incidents that just seem illogical. Obviously I can’t go into detail in a spoiler free review. However, there were a few moments that left me thinking the writer didn’t know how to progress the story.
Characters react unnaturally to events, they make illogical assumptions that lead to drastic consequences and every single character has at least one moment in the movie where they act ridiculously histrionic and it always leads to catastrophe. There is very little in the way of nuance and nothing happens subtly.
I would put this down to an inexperienced story teller more than anything else. The Swarm clocks in at a bladder busting 101 minutes so it is not for lack of adequate time to tell the story. Plenty of those minutes are wasted on pointless drama that goes virtually nowhere. Those minutes could have been spent on crafting a more logical story progression. The Swarm is far too long and could benefit from being trimmed by at least 20 minutes.
Going back to my earlier point; some of the assumptions made by characters are wild. Not only that but some of their reactions are just as bizarre. The final 25 minutes are an explosion of characters overreacting and jumping to conclusions. They would have to be watching the movie with us and share the insight of the viewer to justify acting the way they do.
Apparently Virginie lives around the most suspicious and untrusting group of people in France. I genuinely feel sorry for her for how she was treated during the movie. This, in turn, lead to me disliking most of the characters. People in the USA can have meth labs running for years but Virginie can’t run a locust farm for a few months without everyone around her becoming horribly suspicious.
The director is desperately trying to convince us, right up until the final scenes, that we should agree with the way people react to Virginie’s actions and life decisions which is, frankly, ridiculous. Virginie is in a metaphorical gangbang because she is surrounded by a bunch of dicks.
This is a point I feel that I am going over and over as of late. The Swarm is barely a horror. I think it is marketed as one and is trying to attract that audience. Some of its David Cronenberg esque body horror elements definitely lean over to that side. Other than that, however, it is far more of a drama.
Some of the visuals are a bit creepy. There are lots of long lingering close up shots of locusts that might upset certain viewers. There are a few gory moments here and there as well. People who hate bugs will have a nightmare of a time with this movie. I imagine it would be fun to watch with someone like this squirming away beside you.
More traditional horror elements, however, are almost completely absent. There is no overall menace or malice. Even worse, the antagonist of the movie, the locust, doesn’t feel particularly threatening. If you are looking for scares you aren’t really going to find them here.
This brings up the question of whether you rate this as a horror movie or a drama? As a drama I think the plot is fairly compelling if not a little middle of the road. With regards to the drama aspect, the horror elements actually get in the way a bit.
The same can be said for the horror aspect. The drama side of the movie gets in the way of it. We don’t need to know about the daughter’s issues at school. Do we really care about the neighbours vineyard? I honestly don’t think we give a shit about them having a day out at the beach..
None of these aforementioned things progress the story in a meaningful way. They are certainly not building towards more scares. It is the type of irrelevant fluff you would see in a daytime movie.
There is far too much focus on the daughter and the vineyard owning friend. Sure, the daughter is used to progress the plot later in the movie. But it is in an almost farcical way. Strangely enough, the son has a few scenes which progress the story in exactly the way you would expect in a horror movie. Maybe they should have used him a little more?
I feel that a lot of movies are adding horror elements to elevate their product. It’s better to be a decent horror than it is to be an average drama. This is somewhat misguided. In my experience, these movies tend to make for average horrors and below average drama. You are just diluting both glasses. If you want to make a horror movie, focus on the horror elements. Make sure any drama is used to further the plot, not to fluff up an otherwise boring story.
On a more positive note, acting is generally really good. The Netflix version we watched was an English dub and, to be fair, it wasn’t too bad. I have watched a lot of non-English horror and I prefer subtitles as dubs can sometimes miss context of situations and sound a bit strange but this wasn’t too bad. Suliane Brahim, as Virginie, is tasked with carrying the movie due to her being the main character of focus and she does a really good job. Everyone else is decent, there aren’t any particularly bad performances here.
Cinematography is pretty decent. There was a lot of soft focus on closeup shots as well as on some of the wider angle shots. This kind of bugged me a bit when it come to re-watching some of the scenes. Obviously working with insects makes sharp focus a little more difficult but the wider angle shots featuring swarms of locust seem to be soft to hide the weak CG.
Sound is used really well in The Swarm to illustrate the growing anxiety and anger of the characters. The volume of the locusts increasing with the characters frustrations is a nice touch. Obviously there is some foley work for up close insect shots but I always find that stuff pretty annoying.
There seems to be a fair amount of practical effects and some of the gore looks really good. The cast obviously had to work around live locust as well. There are ethical concerns here but I hope every precaution was taken to prevent any locust being stood on. I know they are bugs but they have as much right to respect and care as any living creature.
Honestly, it's more of a 12 round jab-fest that goes to the judges for a disappointing draw. It's a shame but you got your money out of it and, hey, there may be a rematch (ergo sequel) in the future. The Swarm leans so heavily over to the drama side that it ends up suffering for it. A fairly interesting premise is diluted to the point that there isn't much left in the way of intrigue or scares. It falls squarely into that category of horror that is not really horror.
A long run time leads interest to wane and a number of illogical character decisions and plot holes can leave you frustrated. The story can be engaging but too much attention on the angsty daughter and the vineyard running friend make it difficult to keep focus.
There is a somewhat interesting movie in here, however, and fans of drama heavy horror should definitely check it out. There are some Cronenberg style body horror elements that are done very well and anyone who dislikes bugs is sure to squirm. Acting is generally great and the movie is well shot. If only the director would have shaved 20 minutes off of the runtime, dialled back on the family drama and upped the scares this average horror could have been fantastic.
You can check The Swarm out right now on Netflix in the UK.