French Insect Attack Film, The Swarm (2021) Will Crush You
Title: The Swarm
First Non-Festival Release: June 16, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Just Philippot
Writer: Jérôme Genevray, Franck Victor
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Starring: Suliane Brahim, Sofian Khammes, Marie Narbonne
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Virginie (Suliane Brahim) tends to her struggling locust farming business to keep her family afloat. Things have been rough since the death of her husband and her children’s concerns about the business do nothing to make it easier. Tormented at school for having a “freak” mother obsessed with locusts, Laura (Marie Narbonne) voices her frustrations often while Gaston (Raphael Romand) retreats inward to spend time with his pet goat. Karim (Sofian Khammes), a helpful farmer, does his best to assist Virginie, which she often declines. It’s not until Virginie discovers a new way of caring for her locusts that her situation might improve.
Pulsating with the tension of dark family horror and the bizarre fantasy found only in creature features, The Swarm overwhelms and envelops.
The Swarm redefines what the genre can do and mean. A strong premise told over the course of three gradually intensifying acts climaxes in the most satisfying manners for a modern-day killer insect movie. The insects are not the primary source of horror here, even if they do serve as the only lethal force in the film. Virginie’s desire for success and to prove to her kids that she can provide for them is the true terror. Her inability to heed the warning signs that she is crumbling, and her children are breaking is more horrifying than whatever visceral damage some locusts can do to a corpse.
After the death of her husband, this lab and farm is the only thing making her feel strong in caring for her family. Her locusts act as a metaphor for the control she attempts to exert over life and the emptiness she feels with his absence. Virginie literally puts her blood, sweat, and tears into her business. She is determined to do it on her own and resents charity, even when she begrudgingly accepts it. Furthermore, she despises being taken advantage of and lashes out when things do not go her way.
Everything she does in tending to her farm of locusts is done to feed her family, even if that means endangering herself to do it. Virginie never sets out to harm others but as the situation spills over, there is no stopping the insatiable hunger that she has unleashed. Her desire for control and need to fill the void hurts those who wander in her path much like an uncontrollable swarm of locusts with a thirst for blood violently feed whenever presented. It’s a beautifully haunting metaphor for the ways grief and absence destroy families when left unchecked.
The main crew is sufficiently developed and offer some great internal conflict away from the locusts. Laura’s teen angst pairs well with Gaston’s proclivity towards nature in making their mother’s work harder to sustain with a straight face. Virginie does her best to keep her secret from her family, but her children are more observant and worried than she believes. The entire cast does a wonderful job, but Suliane Brahim truly knocks it out of the park as Virginie. Her ability to capture the desperation and quiet strength of her character in her physicality and vocal inflections is a testament to her craft.
Due to clever camerawork and practical effects, everything looks realistic and frightening at the same time. There isn’t a need to show individual locusts transforming throughout the film. They aren’t scary on their own. When they group together, however, the terrifying mass moves with a murderous rhythm throughout the French countryside. Punishing sound design puts the viewer directly in the greenhouse with constant buzzing somewhere in the distance. It establishes the encompassing way that these insects have devoured the Hébrard’s lives. Plenty of beautiful establishing shots get viewers into the right mood to bask in the warm glow of the ranches. Once the locusts hunt at night, however, the shots become more threatening and colder.
Thoughtful and unsettling, The Swarm creeps under the skin with atmospheric finesse and top-notch family horror drama. Subverting the conventions of typical killer insect movies and providing a deep metaphorical foundation for the horror that lies underneath absence. A bleak slow burn, The Swarm rewards viewers who patiently wait for the chaos to unfold until the tempestuous end. Great performances, meaty character work, and bold stylistic choices make The Swarm an excellent French import worthy of genre enthusiast’s time. Get in line to watch The Swarm before it turns on you.
Overall Score? 7/10