There’s a frame in The Swarm that shows a wall poster of what looks like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a work of art that relates the human body to the working of the universe. The whole film can be thought of as an extension of this idea, but through the monster horror prism.
In an unnamed countryside in France, single mother Virginie (Suliane Brahim) struggles to provide for her children: Laura (Marie Narbonne), a late teen, and her younger brother Gaston (Raphael Romand). Virginie harvests locusts on her farm and tries to sell the high-protein produce to her customers. Her sales pitch also works: “There are more proteins in 100 grams of these locusts than in 150 grams of meat.” However, the declining number of locusts and the dissatisfied customers who aren’t ready to shell more threaten the family’s livelihood. Soon, during a fit of rage, Virginie realises that the locusts that she so ardently cultivated have a taste for blood and that feasting on blood lets them grow bigger and reproduce on a large scale. I’m sure you can guess where the movie is headed.
To be fair, the film hardly tries to mask its intentions. The very first shot is an overhead establishment shot that hovers over agricultural fields, thick, dark woods, and eventually the greenhouse dome in Virginie’s farm. The ominous music and the dark blue visual tint give away the ‘horror’ that is in store. Likeably though, the film adopts the slow-burn way of storytelling. Much like the locusts inside the greenhouse dome(s), the world of The Swarm is also rather condensed. There’s a sense of claustrophobia with the family trapped in a precarious position, financially, geographically, mentally, and emotionally. The locust farm is all that the family has left and it is important for them that they win this battle. Much like the locusts perhaps, many other humans thrive on the miseries of this family, knowingly and unknowingly.
This setting is a crucial aspect of what works in this film. When Virginie begins to bleed for her family, literally, it’s impossible not to feel disturbed. And all of this distress is while the story is being set up. What then is in store, I won’t ruin for you, but let me just say it’s not pleasant. How the horror brews is riveting. The closeups of the locusts make you recognise the unexpected magnificence of the creature. When you get that shot of a goat in front of the enormous dome, you naturally get reminded of Jurassic Park, and the film does a pretty good job of invoking some of the horror you associate with that film.
Sound is an important aspect of this film. With every greenhouse Virginie adds to her farm, the buzzing rises ever so slowly. It signifies the incoming danger, but it also stands for Laura’s lack of control over her mother, her circumstances, and her life. Laura, like her mother, is trapped and wants out. Much of the conflict in the film might have been resolved had the characters had more communication between them. However, since we know the emotional longitudes and latitudes of these characters, we understand why someone like Virginie may not be so forthcoming.
Surprising the audience with fresh, creative storytelling is a challenge, particularly when it comes to the horror genre, but The Swarm does well. Like many creature-horror films, this one too uses reverse anthropomorphism and relates the characteristics of the creature to the humans. True horror resides in the breaking down of the characters you care about, and to see them become what they fear. When you process Virginie as the mother to her human and insect children, a lot begins to be clear. It was, after all, Da Vinci who said, “Nature appears to have been the cruel stepmother rather than the mother of many animals.”
Cast: Suliane Brahim, Marie Narbonne, Raphael Romand, Sofian Khammes
Director: Just Philippot