Little Holly Hippo.
The insomnia is a symptom, not the disease. That’s what you’d hope someone would tell Holly (Azura Skye) as she slowly descends into the maddening purgatory that exists between waking life and nightmare. We see it quite clearly once her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) asks to be doted upon because he’s too stressed out from working sixteen-hour days while their kids Ben (Taen Phillips) and Lee (Liam Seib) do everything to make her life more difficult than it already is as a full-time teacher and housewife working twenty-four hours a day. Add her mother (Deborah Hedwall) requesting a specific pie for a get-together with her recently-released-from-rehab sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) and she’s literally being pulled in a hundred directions at once all while feeling utterly and totally alone.
What does writer/director Dean Kapsalis (inspired by the housewives who inexplicably opened-up to him about the secrets, stress, and resentment in their lives while mowing lawns as a teenager in suburbia) give Holly in response? An intruding mouse serving as the final straw thanks to no one believing that it’s an unavoidable nuisance or perhaps even there at all. And if they’re questioning the existence of something like a rodent problem by laughing at her just like Claudia used to when the two were children and she was overweight (a similar form of bullying Ben wields upon Lee), what else won’t they believe? What else will Holly see and do only to question her recollection and experience of it? She stands before an all-consuming abyss of crippling uncertainty.
That’s what The Swerve is: a black hole that drags Holly down further and further with each new revelation. It’s also an incident that may or may not have happened, one in which her participation was impaired by frustration and rage after another bout with a family that gangs up on her as though it’s their default setting. One second she’s on the road late at night with two drunks deciding that messing with her makes more sense than passing her and being on their way. The next sees her awoken by Rob in their living room chair. Was it a dream? Was her swerving to stop their shenanigans by flipping their car a manifestation of her anger at Claudia and the others? Or did it actually happen?
This dark thought envelops her and yet she must still wake everyone up, make breakfast, go to school, and do everything else before Rob strolls in, worrying again about not knowing whether he earned a promotion. She wants to confide in him only to discover he might be having an affair. (Or is it her increasing paranoia?) She wants to be seen as more than the woman who puts out fires by those she’s putting them out for, so it’s only natural that she cherish the gaze of her student Paul (Zach Rand) for doing exactly that. Finally she can feel something. Finally she can give Rob something to look at it since the woman standing in front of him stopped being enough. Shame and vengeance take control.
We therefore continue to wonder what is real. The newspaper confirms one incident happened, but not if it unfolded the same way that we saw. A quick blink of the eye reveals something else was a hallucination and thus opens the door for everything to be one too. And what about a story Claudia tells at dinner—one dealing with a missing pie and the little girl who denied eating it? As more details about the tale are revealed, the less likely her accusation holds water to confirm the tragedy that was Holly’s childhood of torment for nothing more than a laugh. They still laugh and diminish her value while the rest are able to play the victim. They make her think she’s crazy until she does too.
A disquieting sense of dread quickly takes hold of Holly’s journey through depression, anxiety, and isolation. That which she believes is true fills her with a sadness that risks destroying the supposedly perfect life outsiders presume simply because she has a successful husband and two reasonably adjusted children. She leans into that destruction with Paul and succumbs to the emptiness left in its wake. Just like Holly is the only person who can see the mouse, she’s the only one who can truly feel her own pain. And as it lays motionless and serene in the sunlight with death releasing it from its troubles, she too imagines untethering herself from the trauma of life’s cruel punishment. Maybe her absence will finally force her family to acknowledge she existed.
The Swerve embraces its heavy subject matter with a fearlessness that ultimately sends us towards a conclusion marked by intense despair. Because if no one realizes just how broken Holly has become, no one will ever ask how she’s doing or inquire whether she needs help. They’ll simply drift through their day with the entitled notion that she’s taking care of them. They’ll take her for granted one final time only to reap what blind faith in her “duty” as a mother to be happy and make them happy sows. That anyone can look upon Skye’s face and think solely about him/herself rather than her suffering is astounding because she brings Holly’s (and all those invisible women from Kapsalis’ past) to vivid life. And she will finally sleep.
courtesy of Epic Pictures