By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
There have been several kinds of movies about mental health disorders. Some have that feel-good, triumph over adversity feel, while others serve as cautionary tales, presenting the worst-case scenarios. The Swerve definitely falls into that latter category, serving as stern, disturbing warning that if left unchecked, mental health problems can devolve and lead to tragic consequences. Todd Phillips’ film Joker tackles this subject wihin the milleu of a comic book inpired character. Though the movie does make some valid statements about mental healthcare, it also does so with some problematic elements, nullifying its power as a social commentary. This is a problem that The Swerve doesn’t have. Writer/director Dean Kapsalis presents a realistic story about mental illness without any of the problematic allusions and implications.
In the film, the troubled protagonist is the sad and seemingly neglected high school teacher Holly (Azura Skye). Holly is an unhappily married wife to husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) and mother to sons Ben (Taen Phillips) and Lee (Liam Sieb). Though Holly works hard to please her family, her husband’s fidelity is highly questionable, and her sons don’t seem to respect her at all. To make matters worse, Holly is always exhausted due to insomnia. The less she sleeps, the more on-edge she is. She also slowly begins to lose all sense of reality. This further pushes her over the edge to a point where she feels alone, desperate, and in tremendous pain.
So, yes, this film is definitely not feel-good, triumph over adversity material. This is truly a tragic story that plays out realistically. Filmmaker Dean Kapsalis does an exceptional job of presenting this heartbreaking story. Kapsalis takes a mostly no-frills approach that appropriately goes more hypnotic, surreal, and nightmarish. In Holly, Kapsalis gives the audience a likable, but mostly sympathetic protagonist. Combined with Azura Skye’s incredible performance, the film succeeds in garnering the proper amount of empathy from the audience to the point where it literally hurts to see her falling apart and making horrible decisions.
In addition to Skye’s tremendous acting, her supporting cast members deliver great performances too. Bryce Pinkham does a fantastic of walking that fine line between scumbag, cheating husband and a bewildered husband not sure what to do to save his marriage. This performance is key considering that it is certainly difficult to tell the difference between what is real and imagined in the story. Another key performance comes from actor Zach Rand who stars as Holly’s student and secret admirer Paul. Rand perfectly captures the gentle naivete that a teenager with his shy and insecure personality should have. He works well with Azura Skye with whom he shares some important scenes in the film.
So, as one can probably already tell, this movie is not an easy watch. As intriguing as the story is, and as compelling a character as Holly is, her journey is a painfully tragic one. Nevertheless, the realistic portrayal of people suffering from mental illnesses is something people need to see in cinema to raise more awareness. This particular movie also reminds men and boys to not take the women in their lives for granted. The Swerve‘s Holly has been taken for granted, and the men in her life have selfishly ignored her problems for far too long.
The Swerve is now available for viewing on Digital and VOD platforms.