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Movie Review: 'The Swerve' Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

I’ll be up front about this: If you’re someone who just watches movies for entertainment, that’s perfectly reasonable, but the new movie The Swerve isn’t for you. If you’re someone who’s willing to get very uncomfortable while looking at raw human experience, this is an absolute haymaker of a film. For me, movies—like all art—aren’t always about having a good time.

Mental illness is such a difficult thing to depict, because it’s so internal. We can show how people behave and how that affects others, and we can use tricks with sound and color and editing to evoke emotions, but nothing really gets across the actual experience. So we often resort to metaphor, with demons or monsters, or we trust that the actors will be able do what so few can—that is, help us truly feel what’s going on inside another person.

Note I didn’t say “understand” what’s going on inside another person. And that’s because so much of this is beyond understanding, unless you’ve experienced it yourself, and often even then. By definition, it’s not rational, and it can’t be explained to another person in a rational way. The Swerve gets this, and so it leaves out the explaining part, and just shows us the total annihilation of a woman from the inside out. In an utterly punishing performance from actor Azura Skye, we see that woman, Holly, as she begins the movie as a quote-unquote “typical” suburban mom (although one who’s not treated particularly kindly by those around her) when an entirely mundane event trips a wire inside her, and she slides rapidly downward. We’re not given an explanation as to why this happens, or why it happens now, although there are some indications it may have been lurking. We don’t know the “why,” because there may be no “why” we can know.

What happens to Holly has to be seen—like her illness, it can’t be accurately described. And it’s not pleasant. The Swerve gets very rough, but, then, something with this level of gravity shouldn’t be fun.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.