Every episode of Swarm opens with the text, "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional." At first, this statement threw me off a bit. But these lines made sense once I understood the subject of this series. Swarm is about the "innocuously toxic" (innocuous for the fan, toxic for the outsider who sees the fan) relationship between a star and her fan. Ni'Jah (Nirine S. Brown) is the celebrity, and Dre (Dominique Fishback) is her hardcore worshiper.
The star-fan relationship can be a fertile ground for cinematic drama. The necessary ingredients - reverence, heartbreak, toxicity, and guilt - are already in place. A blind follower is like a one-sided lover. They go to extreme lengths to please their beloved, unruffled by the possibility that their object of desire might be unaware of their existence or not care about their "contribution." Dre, however, knows that she is not even a blip on Ni'Jah's radar. She also knows she is her biggest fan. When a character compares her to Ni'Jah, she dismisses her by calling her idol "special." Dre recognizes how small and ordinary she is compared to Ni'Jah. But her intense feelings, and unpleasant actions, stem from a place of profound adoration. Ni'Jah might be unaware of Dre, but Dre is in awe of Ni'Jah and feels obliged to defend her icon.
As far as Dre is concerned, she thinks Ni'Jah is speaking about her emotions. Look at her on all fours giving an orgasmic reaction while watching Ni'Jah's music video on television. She resembles a salivating dog, but the characters compare her to another animal. A bee or a queen bee, to be exact. Criticize Ni'Jah and get stung by Dre. And by stung, I mean...well, watch the series and find out yourself. Does the title actually mean "a swarm of bees?" The bees, obviously, are all the other fans. They collectively attack the haters on social media, and at one point, one of them leaks someone's address. The queen bee then flies to that location to do some stingy business.
Swarm takes the bee thing too close to its heart, which is why you occasionally hear a buzzing score in the soundscape. This sound punctures the impact of a shocking moment, but the joke - a very dark joke - lands. Swarm is funny until it isn't, and there are moments where the comedy brushes against an uncomfortable mood (mainly in the sixth episode), creating a sensation of dissonance. Some obstacles, like entry to a gym and being followed by a police officer, are overcome through characters that seem to be airdropped primarily for solving Dre's problems. I don't know what the creators intended to achieve, but it all comes across as lazy plot convenience. Sure, the police officer issue leads Dre into a cult, but that thread feels disposable. And that's another problem with Swarm: It repeatedly makes the same points without offering additional insights into the situation (episodes 2 and 3 serve as a perfect example).
Thankfully, every episode of Swarm runs for around 30 minutes. It makes for an easy watch, which is why the issues don't leave you pulling your hair in frustration. There are pleasant surprises, both stylistically (episode 6) and cameo-wise (episode 4). There is also a sex scene with junk food in the picture. However, what really pulls you into the narrative is Dre and her mannerisms. Just notice how she effortlessly speaks lies. In one of the scenes in Swarm, the camera zooms in on her lips, goes upwards to her eyes, and then returns to her lips. She not only invents a story but also imagines it and sees it. She believes every word she speaks. Hence, the tears from her eyes.
What all this really means is that Fishback is fabulous in Swarm. There are moments here that become palpable simply through her expressions. Fishback consistently makes us feel that something is wrong with Dre and, according to her will, pulls us close or pushes us away from her. The final scene could have registered as false or pretentious, but Fishback sells every inch of it. Dre can be blind, soulless, and problematic. She is someone you don't want to be friends with, especially if your tastes differ wildly. But in Swarm, you can't stop staring at her antics.
Final Score- [7/10]
Reviewed by - Vikas Yadav
Follow @vikasonorous on Twitter
Publisher at Midgard Times
Note: All 7 episodes are screened for this review.
Premiere Date: March 17, 2023, on Prime Video
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