The Swarm | French Netflix Horror Starts Strong but Grows Tiresome

Just Philippot has become something of a phenomenon in recent years with his striking efficiency to deliver high quality short films with artistic execution most can only dream of. Both Acid (2018) and Ses Souffles (2015) showcased his daring approach to moviemaking and it was only a matter of time before his promise behind the camera lens would eventually make way for his feature film debut, The Swarm.

The Swarm follows the Hébrard family as they struggle to make ends meet, with the matriarch of the family, Virginie (Suliane Brahim), relying on the breeding of edible locusts as the sole source of income. Failing to reproduce the significant number of locusts needed to ensure consistent sales of locust powder to buyers, Virginie discovers that her locusts have an insatiable lust for blood. With this strange discovery, she nourishes her insect creations and develops a strangely sinister relationship with them that leads to devastating consequences.

Philippot’s atmospheric drama starts out well. The cast is great. The fractured relationship rooted deep within the Hébrard family is fascinating to watch at times and Virginie’s dedication to her work makes for an interesting focus, offering up some genuinely creepy segments rarely explored in darker cinema. Philippot relies on body horror stylings that recall David Cronenberg’s The Fly or William Friedkin’s Bug to push the narrative into unknown territories and it is hard to deny that The Swarm is a great little concept.

Unfortunately, after the intriguing and well-executed opening, The Swarm takes a nosedive in quality. It isn’t long before The Swarm becomes another The Babadook-esque scenario. What starts out as an interesting focus on this family’s fractured, unhealthy relationship quickly becomes a constant assault on your mental state to make you understand, repeatedly, that this family are victims of a fractured and unhealthy relationship. As such, the end result feels a tad mind-numbing and boring to watch.


The biggest culprit here though is the awful pacing. Philippot still gives us glimpses of brilliance. Many of the scenes focusing on the sinister relationship between Virginie and her locusts are standouts. Yet, at its core, The Swarm resorts to dull, almost aimless scenes of unnecessary character bickering in an attempt to pad out the overlong runtime.

Instead of working towards a reassured resolution, The Swarm takes two steps back and drowns under its constant need to reinforce its conflict. The viewer almost feels like daughter Laura (a convincing Marie Narbonne) and can sympathise with her regular frustration at her mother’s broken promises. This is because whenever The Swarm feels like it is working towards something it just falls apart once again. You’re left with a sense that maybe Philippot’s debut would have worked much better as a short film than as a full-length feature.

It is genuinely difficult to dissect anything that happens in the middle act of The Swarm because it simply follows an uninspired copy and paste formula again and again. Characters argue, characters make up only to argue again a few scenes later as Virginie disturbingly interacts with her locusts who enjoy the taste of blood. It’s extremely simple stuff and though Philippot attempts to sugarcoat it with artistic flair and promises of terror that never fully come to fruition, it all feels like an underdeveloped concept.

Thankfully, in the final act of The Swarm, genuine stakes eventually make an appearance and Virginie’s strange obsession and neglect of her family finally have damning consequences. However, it is a case of too little too late because the finale ends so swiftly. That’s not to say the climax isn’t executed extremely well. The way Philippot handles the last few minutes indicate that The Swarm would have greatly benefitted from a more reigned in artistic approach and a couple of script rewrites focusing more on Virginie’s sinister locusts.

The bloodthirsty locusts she has been feeding and caring for have become an enormous destructive force and as we all know, when nature isn’t treated with the respect it deserves, it can become a life-shattering entity. This understanding really should have been the main focus for the movie instead of its run-of-the-mill family turmoil that leaves it feeling like another Netflix disappointment.

The Swarm is now streaming on Netflix.

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