Review: The Swerve Hits Every Suburban Cliché


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Midway through writer/director Dean Kapsalis’s debut feature, The Swerve, put-upon housewife Holly (Azura Skye) makes a revelation about her role in a shocking act of violence. Desperate and dazed, Holly goes to the supermarket managed by her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham), hoping to find a sympathetic ally. But as she makes her way through the empty stockroom to find Rob, Holly senses something wrong. Shock ripples across Holly’s face as she finds Rob and with him, confirmation of her worst fears. 

If you’ve seen or read any of the 100s of suburban ennui stories produced over the past 75 years, you know exactly what Holly finds Rob doing. And that’s one of the two big problems with The Swerve, a psychological thriller about the slow unraveling of suburban housewife Holly. 

Her life is filled with broad caricatures, lesser versions of more interesting characters from other stories. Rob is an insecure executive who frets about his promotion while dismissing Holly’s worries and does not help with their ungrateful teen sons Ben (Taen Phillips) and Lee (Liam Seib). When not teaching high school English, Holly tries to mend her relationship with her troubled sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) with gifts of homemade apple pie. 

Each one of these conflicts offers ground for character-driven drama, but Kapsalis spoils the mix by making them all overheated stereotypes. Every actor plays their character dialed up to a ten, boiling over with an inner turmoil that manifests in utter hatred toward Holly. With his lacrosse gear and sneering remarks, Ben feels like Patrick Bateman jr. while Lee is so comically gross that he makes Augustus Gloop seem fully developed. Bell finds moments of levity in Claudia, but the script gives her no motivation other than “insult and embarrass Holly at every opportunity.” Only Holly’s student Paul (Zach Rand) treats her with kindness, but the movie adds nothing to the stock daydreaming weirdo character we’ve seen in other, better movies. The Swerve shoves its cruel and cliched characters into the viewer\’s face, as unpleasant as it is dull. 

At 95 minutes, The Swerve could be a movie that would benefit from familiar character beats, using them as a shorthand to set up the premise and then move to more interesting material. But the film either repeats cliches instead of developing them – an early sequence moves from Rob haranguing Holly to Holly’s mother berating her on the phone to the boys slamming the door in her face as they go to school – or fills the space with nothing. Kapsalis devotes several minutes of screen time to Holly grocery shopping, cross-dissolving from shots of her walking through the aisles to shots of her inspecting fruit. Mark Korven’s Jon Brion-esque score suggests some creeping dread, but Holly seeing Rob talk to two women hardly provides a satisfying button to an overwrought scene. 

This devotion to familiarity comes the cost of potentially interesting ideas, such as the titular swerve. The movie suggests that Holly may have indulged in a liberating act of road rage and tries to play the development as an ambiguous suggestion rather than an overt plot point. But it’s so mishandled that the accident sinks into the background, so buried under a cast of comical jerks that a shocking act of violence barely registers with the viewer. 

Kapsalis is more successful with the film\’s climax, which involves a cruel bit of dramatic irony, but at that point, we no longer care. Everything has been a slog of bleak and familiar tropes that not even an otherwise clever ending can rescue it.

At one moment, the movie does give us a brief glimpse of the type of film that deserves such a climax. After discovering her husband\’s indiscretion, Holly encounters the young weird kid and asks him, \”Could you just hold me?\” It\’s a surprisingly warm moment, an oasis of kindness in a film obsessed with cruelty toward its characters. The camera stays on Holly as she cries softly in her students’ arms. The score drops out, letting her sniffles blend with the sounds of rustling trees and passing cars. And the characters say nothing to one another. 

It’s a moment that offers what the movie desperately needs: a recognizable human, not a recognizable cliche. Had the characters spent less time yelling at each other, The Swerve may have achieved the dramatic thrust it so desperately wants. Instead, it remains completely inert, loudly grinding its gears but going nowhere.  

GRADE: D

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