This weekend sees the UK debut of the French creature feature, The Swarm (aka Le Nuée). The movie is available to watch on Netflix from today, and stars Suliane Brahim, Sofian Khammes, Marie Narbonne, and Raphael Romand.
Directed by Just Philippot, The Swarm tells the story of a single mother called Virginie, who is trying to do best by her family, while making all the wrong decisions. These decisions centre around a collection of locusts that she breeds as part of her job, that develop a taste for blood!
In the movie, Virginie is a locust farmer. She breeds locusts in the grounds that surround her home, and sells them on as a protein-rich food source.
The business is small, her income is meagre, and despite the amount of work she puts into her job, she struggles to make ends meet. The shortfall in money, as well as the nature of her business, begins to take a toll on her family, and she simply can’t seem to get ahead.
One day, after becoming increasingly frustrated with her situation, Virginie lashes out at the locusts in their enclosure, but in her moment of rage, she trips and falls, knocking herself out in the process. When she comes to, Virginie discovers that she is covered in locusts, and some of them are feeding on the blood she spilled in the accident.
The next day, the locusts begin to display increased activity. The bugs have grown in size, and are breeding at a much quicker rate than before.
Understanding the key to their development lies in their food source, Virginie starts to feed the locusts a few drops of her blood. However, things soon get out of hand, when her desire to make money takes over and the expansion of her business means she needs to keep them nutritionally sustained.
Creature features live and die on three things: The strength of their story, the quality of their special effects, and their ability to bring terror to the screen. The Swarm manages to tick off two of these things, but unfortunately just misses out on the third.
In terms of its story, The Swarm excels. This is essentially a cautionary tale about a woman who is both emotionally and financially at the end of her tether, and who begins to do the wrong thing, for the right reasons.
This isn’t a story about some mad scientist, plucked from a 1950s B-movie, but rather a tale about a fully-fleshed out character, doing her best to survive. Like many people, the world-over, she’s trying to put food on the table and keep the lights on, and her story is both interesting and believable to watch.
The Swarm’s greatest strength lies in this ongoing narrative, as well as the understanding that good people make bad choices when they find themselves in dire circumstances. This is something which many can relate to, especially in current times when so many are struggling.
With regards to the special effects, all of the shots of the locusts are handled very well, and ensure there is a decent level of creepiness throughout the movie. Those who squirm at the sight of bugs will find themselves feeling suitably uncomfortable – especially during moments when the locusts get to feast – and there are some great close-ups of the creatures which are designed to unnerve.
When the locusts swarm, the effects never look ropey or like obvious CGI. Everything looks natural, and this ties into the small-scale setting of the story.
Where things fall short is in the action department. When the locusts do their thing, it is creepy stuff, but unfortunately, they don’t do their thing nearly enough and at no point does this movie become terrifying like it could be.
The locusts only get to swarm on two occasions. The first takes place just past the mid-point of the movie, with the second taking place during the final ten minutes.
As noted above, the effects for these scenes look good, but they come and go so quickly it all feels very anti-climactic. On both occasions, when the swarms happen, it seems as if the movie is finally ready to open up, to embrace the horrific potential of the premise, and yet nothing much happens.
Things get gruesome, but the blood and gore are kept to a bare minimum and instead of carnage there are just a couple of isolated incidents. This movie’s biggest drawback is that it keeps everything very lowkey, when it really could move into some exciting places.
This is a shame, because had The Swarm seized the opportunity to let the locusts run wild, it would have delivered so much more. I was sat ready and waiting for it to happen, it just never did.
For me, The Swarm has plenty to like, including some great imagery, and for the most part it works, but it is a slow-burning picture, which places its focus on domestic drama rather than on spectacle. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity to deliver on its set-up.
If you like your horror with plenty of story, then take a look at The Swarm. But if you’re after something along the lines of say, Arachnophobia (1990), you won’t find that here.