The Swerve left me reeling. The movie, which had its world premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Fest, keeps you riveted while you watch, then refuses to leave your mind after it's over. Writer/director Dean Kapsalis structures his story methodically, so that it slowly sucks you in before punching you in the gut with a devastating finale. This is absolutely a picture to be on the lookout for.
Azura Skye gives a powerhouse performance as Holly, a high school teacher we quickly come to realize is in a deep depression, and possibly experiencing schizoaffective symptoms. Her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) is preoccupied with a promotion (among other things), her two teen sons barely acknowledge her, and her drunken sister Claudia (Ashley Bell) loves to stir up any trouble that she can. Then there's her student, Paul (Zach Rand), who pays attention to her in a way no one else does, albeit a very inappropriate way.
All these factors drag Holly down. The thing that really starts to sink her, though, happens on a road late at night, as some jerks in another car harass her. Saying what happens wouldn't be fair, but understand that Holly's already troubled life manages to get even worse after this event.
The Swerve takes on a lot of ideas – guilt, anger, despair and, most notably, the way depression can envelop a person, making them feel as though the walls are perpetually closing in and there's no way to escape. Kapsalis often keeps his scenes short, getting to the point, then moving on to the next. The approach helps to simulate the way people afflicted with severe mood disorders experience life as a series of stressful moments strung together with little respite.
Without a doubt, The Swerve is made by Azura Skye's outstanding work. Playing a character like Holly, who is in a downward spiral, is challenging because you run the risk of making it one-note. The actress deftly avoids that, gradually showing us how Holly's sense of desperation grows, and how her ability to rein it in evaporates. What Skye does with the character in the last fifteen minutes gives the film a sense of tragedy that rocks you. Want to see one of the best performances of the year? Here it is.
While it deals with tough subject matter, calling The Swerve a “downer” would be inaccurate. Seeing a film this well-made and skillfully acted is exhilarating. The story goes to places you don't expect and, in its most intense scenes, virtually causes you to hold your breath in nervous anticipation of what's going to happen. A clear theme emerges in the final minutes: deep depression overwhelms people, and when no one is willing to help, the results can be calamitous.
Prepare to be blown away by this knockout of a thriller.
The Swerve is currently unrated, but contains adult language, sexual content, and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.