Photo: ‘The Swarm’/Netflix
My favorite films are those where you don’t know what to expect going in and are happily surprised by the end. It’s like putting your hand in a mystery box and pulling out $100 dollars. You have no clue what you’re going to get, so when you win something good, it’s a great feeling.
That’s how I felt watching ‘The Swarm’ on Netflix this past weekend. Going in, I had very little idea of what to expect. I didn’t see the trailer and had no clue what the film was about before reading the synopsis on IMDb before viewing. There wasn’t much information about this film online, and that honestly excited me a little bit. It’s been a while since there was a film where I have had no idea what to expect going in. And boy, I was not disappointed.
‘The Swarm’ – An Unusual Premise
‘The Swarm’, titled ‘La Nuée’ in France, is a French horror film on Netflix. Selected for International Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival last year (before it was rescheduled to 2021), the streaming service bought the distribution rights for the film, where it was released this weekend. Directed by French director Just Philippot, the film follows a single mother named Virginie (Suliane Brahim), who makes a living off of breeding edible locusts and selling them for a profit. As she struggles to find a productive way to keep her business afloat, she makes an interesting discovery: they enjoy the taste of blood.
It’s definitely an interesting premise, one that I was not expecting when watching this movie. ‘The Swarm’ definitely takes the idea and rolls with it in different ways. Virginie is desperate to keep her home and her business afloat, so she has no problem with using blood to get the locusts to breed. Eventually, this causes problems that disrupt her and her family in ways that will change them forever.
Unnerving in the Best Way
Something ‘The Swarm’ does really well is its slow progression into horror. It’s not like a lot of horror movies today, where there’s a heavy reliance on jump scares or moments meant to spook the audience. Instead, the film takes its time getting there, focusing on unsettling imagery and suspense to keep you hooked, moments that will stick in your mind long after the credits roll. In a way, it feels similar to the works of acclaimed horror director Ari Aster, and that’s definitely something to enjoy when watching this film.
The beginning of ‘The Swarm’ feels like a family drama about perseverance and struggling to get by. It lulls you into a sense of comfortability in the first act, before flipping a switch for the rest of the movie that takes everything down a much darker path. As Virginie discovers the locusts’ love for blood, the story goes in unsettling directions that are unnerving to watch in the best way.
A lot of credit goes to Suliane Brahim and her wonderful portrayal of Virginie. Brahim plays Viriginie in a subdued, mysterious figure that makes her very entertaining as this story’s protagonist. She clearly cares about her family and will do what it takes to put food on the table, but as the events of the film progress, her motives become questionable and she feels less like a sympathetic character. Losing trust in your protagonist is something that would normally be considered bad writing, but Brahim’s smart portrayal makes her riveting to watch and a highlight of the film as a whole. This is a story about an obsession gone too far, and both Brahim and Just Philippot make this an entertaining, if not squeamish, ride.
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And “squeamish” honestly is the best way to describe ‘The Swarm’. There’s a lot of blood and definitely a lot of locusts present in this film. It feels like it was made to make the average viewer’s stomach churn. That definitely works to the film’s advantage, as it makes the horror elements and the intimidating presence of the locusts feel much more heightened and horrifying. Honestly, with the news of an influx of locusts this year across the United States, 2021 was the perfect year to release this film. If locusts didn’t “bug” you before (lame insect joke, I know), ‘The Swarm’ will definitely make you see them in a different way after watching.
Family Drama Amidst an Outlandish Story
Still, as the film descends further down the horror path, it never loses sight of the family drama at its heart. Despite the new success that Virginie’s new locusts might bring, she still deals with familial issues that affect her throughout the film. Her daughter, Laura (Marie Narbonne), gets bullied for her mother’s creepy and unorthodox profession of breeding locusts, and this puts her at odds with Virginie. The mother-daughter dynamic is really what matters in ‘The Swarm’, as she navigates her rocky relationship with her daughter while also hiding the dark secret of her blood-hungry locusts. Her younger son Gaston (Raphael Romand) is an innocent boy who shares his mother’s appreciation of locusts while also remaining unaware of his Virginie’s secret. Together, their family dynamic feels real and fleshed out, thanks to a well-written story and Philippot’s assured direction.
‘The Swarm’ is unlike many horror movies out now, with a grounded focus amidst a fantastical story. Despite the blood-hungry locusts being the plot of the story, the focus still lies on Virginie and her mental state, as her obsession grows into something both horrifying and dangerous. This is a movie that I was lucky to find out about and watch, and to you reader, I suggest you give it a chance. While the plot may be overall pretty predictable and it doesn’t really reach for anything groundbreaking, ‘The Swarm’ is still an enjoyable film that any horror fan should give a shot. The famous director Bong Joon-ho once said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” a statement more true than ever. This film is evidence of that, and with its wide accessibility on Netflix, it’s definitely worth checking out.
‘The Swarm’ is available now on Netflix.
Cast and Crew:
Cast: Suliane Brahim, Sofian Khammes, Marie Narbonne, Raphael Romand, Nathalie Boyer
Directed by: Just Philippot
Screenplay by: Jérôme Genevray, Franck Victor | Cinematography by: Romain Carcanade
Edited by: Pierre Deschamps | Music by: Vincent Cahay
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.