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“The Swerve” is a painful but compelling look at a woman’s demise as the demons of her past and present converge with devastating consequences.

The Swerve is the first film by director Dean Kapsalis. He picks a difficult subject to tackle right out of the gate: familial horror. This is definitely not the typical horror film, with its deliberate storytelling — and sans any monsters, ghosts, or serial killers. All the terror takes place within the mind of one person, Holly, a troubled wife and mother.

Instead of taking pleasure as her husband finally achieves a long-awaited advancement in his career — and enjoying her own job as a high school teacher — she battles the demons inside her.

While a familiar story, echoing themes found in films like The Babadook and Hereditary, this film centers itself on a more concrete footing. And the story is carried by a slow and careful hand. The stellar performance of Azura Skye, who plays Holly, makes the film a tense but intriguing watch.

This film offers a disturbing take on the impact of emotional abuse and mental issues.

It shows the toll such issues take on the individual suffering, but it also illustrates the permanent and irreversible effects on the person’s loved ones.

The Swerve begins with Holly driving. She appears dazed and bloody, as she heads to an unknown location. She awakens, from her dream, and she’s back home in bed with her husband, Rob. Holly sets off to prepare everyone in her family breakfast and getting her two teenage sons ready for school. Hostility comes from her oldest, Ben, and her youngest Lee, who wakes up late. After a struggle, both she and the boys head to school, where she teaches literature/English.

Holly appears worn out and distracted as she deals with her life troubles. It appears she isn’t as ready and in control as she hopes. Her struggles include an overbearing mother, a troubled sister with a substance abuse problem, and children who do not respect her in the least. During family get togethers, she is the outsider, even surrounded by loved ones. She cooks and cleans, while everyone else enjoys themselves without her.

She leaves in anger and goes for a drive, without her family even noticing her absence. During her drive, she encounters a few drunken idiots who harass her. A tragic event occurs, and Holly escapes. But the event leaves her shaken. Already suffering from insomnia, she sinks further into her depressing existence. Meanwhile, a mouse problem develops in her home, and she becomes focused on the rodent.

Holly eventually cracks. She catches Rob engaging in an affair at work, and she begins a relationship with a student as an act of revenge. The student also works at her husband’s grocery store. She continues to have nightmares and insomnia. Although she increases her prescription dosage after a doctor’s visit, the pills are no match for her conscience — racked with guilt about her car accident.

The film blurs the lines of perception.

We see the world through Holly’s eyes as it begins to get more distorted. We also discover emotional and mental baggage from her past that she’s been carrying with her.

After another incident, she hallucinates while having a sexual encounter with her student. She leaves as the stress and medication make her dizzy and confused. Everything crashes down on her, and Azura makes the character real and relatable. Holly is a mess. And even as she drowns in her real life, she endures and attempts to gain everyone’s love.

But old habits die hard, and the added stress takes a toll. After a revealing incident with the mouse, things take a darker turn, and her self hatred takes on a physical manifestation. Her need to destroy herself takes on a horrific dimension, and fans of horror will recognize a similar plot line from a popular Stephen King story.

In this version, we see the after effects of the act.

The film ends with a gruesome warning about untreated mental issues and unexpected consequences.

The cast of the film is quite strong. Each character builds on the realization that Holly is a damaged soul, who is unable to cope with life. And with her attempts to make things right, she drowns in their selfish behavior.

The Swerve is a heart-wrenching film that doesn’t let up, and you will not want to stop watching.

The Swerve made its world premiere at Cinepocalypse 2019. 

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