La Nuee (The Swarm)
With so many new Netflix releases to choose from, I would always pick arthouse and directorial debut films over others. After watching Blood Red Sky, a German vampire film set in a Transatlantic plane at 38,000 feet altitude, I have bound again with another horror La Nuée also known as The Swarm. It was first released last August 2020 at Angoulême Francophone Festival. It won the Special Jury Prize and Best Actress Awards at Sitges, the Audience Award, and the Critics’ Award in Gérardmer Fantastic Film Festival, and recipient of a 2020 Cannes Critics’ Week Label. It is the feature film debut of the French Director Just Philippot. The Swarm had gained much audience attention in France, Spain, and China. So what is the reason behind its audience’s high viewing ranking? I am more than enthusiastic to find out.
Story, Frames & Score
The Swarm centers on the story of a dysfunctional family living on a farm. The father of the family who recently died was a goat raiser. Leaving the huge pile of debt, the poor widow has to do whatever it takes just to make ends meet. She left behind goat farming and turn to breed locusts to sell them as a high-protein food. But it is not as simple as that, getting them to reproduce turns out to be complicated. With blood, toil, tears, and sweat she rears her locust just to bring food to the table. As they continue to struggle financially, she started to lose grip of herself losing both her sanity and humanity.
The film uses a straightforward narrative focusing on a family drama with explicit body horror. Its raw storytelling gives out a documentary vibe showing the sweat and blood of the farmer and how she values her crop. The overarching motherly love binds the story together enabling the characters to grow in the audience’s hearts as the plot develops. Just like other films with struggling farming as a backdrop, La Nuée does not fall short of showing its brutal effect on familial relationships. I was reminded of how Jacob in Minari regards his crop to the extent of giving all his attention to it sacrificing his family relationship at some point.
The lingering horror element involving creepy crawlies takes time to build up. Most of what seems to be gory and spine-chilling scenes are hidden from the audience. It could be effective in a way that adds more to the haunting vibe of the film. However, it leaves out many questions as to what happened with the locusts that got out. The anticipated catastrophe never happened to my dismay. The story is so focused on the family that the writers forgot that the locusts could fly and could bring harm to any living creatures in the community. The climax lacks precedent and the ending is a bit rushed. It also seems illogical as to how those swarm of locusts can kill a healthy and strong man in few minutes.
The film offers more than a shallow character-driven narrative as it provides character discourse. Virginie, introduced initially as the protagonist is given a solid character profile. Her character arc is well developed as she turns out to be the monster in human form because of her greed. Sulaine Brahim breathes life to Virginie’s avatar with superb internalization, no wonder she received the Best Actress accolade at Sitges. Sofian Khammesas as Karim is fantastic in displaying his unrequited love for Virginie. His charm especially when tending his vineyard and talks about his wine is oozing. Marie Narbonne as Laura is terrific. Her display of teenage angst is compelling making her annoying as she complains about almost anything that she has and does not have.
Music, Frames, & Direction
One aspect I highly enjoy in this film is its magnificent visuals. Despite its haunting premise, the aesthetically shot open green fields, geodesic dome, greenhouses, vineyard, isolated house, the lake, forest, and vast grassland are picturesque and feast-to-the-eyes. DOP Roamin Carcanade perfectly blends brilliant camera works and location to bring out refreshing frames showcasing the stunning landscape of Caubeyres, France. As a fan of Animal Planet and National Geographic Channel, I could not refrain from becoming fascinated with the jaw-dropping actual footage and practical SFX of the locusts done by Antoine Mouineau.
The BGM by Vincent Cahay also plays a vital role in intensifying emotions and sequences in the film. The long-playing classical music inside the dome and the creepy chirping sounds of the grasshoppers keep the haunting tone of the film.
This 101-minute film is tightly trimmed by Pierre Deschamps interlacing the narratives with the rest of the elements of the film. With the desire of Just Philippot to bridge realism and fantasy, he uses 6,000 grasshoppers to avoid relying on CGI. His experience with Acid (2018) had given him a background in shooting vast locations thus, making La Nuée a good feature film debut. Others may compare this film with other previously released like The Fly (David Cronenberg) and The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock), however, Just Philippot tries something refreshing by combining arthouse and fantasy genre to come up with a neo-arthouse horror flix. The movie does not eschew social and political issues like bullying, gender mainstreaming and discrimination, poverty, farmer exploitation, capitalism, and food shortage making it worth watching.
La Nuée or The Swarm streaming exclusively on Netflix is a good slow burn arthouse horror drama that would haunt the viewers not only because of the creepy crawlies but the hard-hitting undertone. The documentary-like framing shots, hair-raising chirping, and horrendous body horror would create entomophobia in those with weak hearts. Overall, The Swarm is indeed a strong directorial debut.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.