Swarm Review: A Closer Look at Donald Glover’s Hook-Up Inspired Series
Donald Glover has shifted from his signature comedy with a touch of horror to a new horror series with a touch of comedy in the form of “Swarm”. The seven-part series, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, attempts to replicate the same disorienting and disquieting effects of his previous show “Atlanta”. While “Swarm” may only be occasionally successful in this, it is still captivating enough to hold the viewer’s attention.
In contemporary America, horror is becoming an increasingly popular genre for filmmakers. “Swarm” is a story about a young Black woman, Dre (Dominique Fishback), who is a fanatic follower of a pop star named Ni’Jah, reminiscent of Beyoncé. When Dre encounters individuals who do not share the same level of reverence for her hero, she takes swift and violent action, using whatever heavy object is at hand to inflict punishment. This is the basis for the show’s satirical commentary on fan culture and social media, and its effect on individuals who feel like outcasts.
Despite its correlation to Beyoncé and the BeyHive fan army, “Swarm” is not solely about fans or tweets. The show uses its premise as a springboard for a captivating story that promises to be far more interesting than that in its best moments.
Donald Glover’s creative genius has once again captured the attention of viewers with his latest project, “Swarm”. Co-created with “Atlanta” alum Janine Nabers, the show also features Stephen Glover, Donald’s brother, as a writer. Although Glover only has hands-on credits for story and directing on the first episode, it is undeniably the most “Atlanta”-like of the series, featuring his trademark atmosphere – dense yet woozy – and his signature style that dances cheek-to-cheek with surrealism, blurring the line between the uncanny and the ordinary in our lives.
“Swarm” introduces us to Dre, a quirky and barely employed young woman living in Houston in 2016, portrayed with visceral emotional texture by Michaela Coel’s understudy, Dominique Fishback. The action centers around a calamity involving Dre’s roommate and lifeline, Marissa, played by the talented Chloe Bailey. It becomes apparent that the show is really about the things that Dre’s fandom is a substitute for: self-respect, love, companionship, and money.
The central metaphor that cleverly interweaves throughout the show is hunger. Dre’s reaction to a kill is to reach for food, while the recurring motif of being asked if she’s hungry is delivered with a hard punch of emotion by Fishback. When Dre finally confronts Ni’Jah, her reaction is to figuratively and quasi-literally devour her.
However, while the initial episodes of “Swarm” are strong and captivating, the latter half of the season loses the viscous, seductive ambiance and dream-logic storytelling. High-concept, tonally garish episodes take over, adding little to our understanding of Dre beyond the facts of her backstory, which are doled out in typical streaming-series fashion.
One episode finds Dre surrounded by a cult-like group of blissed-out white women, led by Billie Eilish, whose hospitality takes a dark “Midsommar”-style turn. Meanwhile, a stream of people, usually white, offer Dre a pretense of understanding or protection, highlighting another motif of the show. Another episode takes on a mock true-crime series, serving to tie up loose ends and lurch the plot ahead before the season finale.
Jasmine Cephas Jones, best known for her role in the HBO series “The Deuce,” shines in her portrayal of Dre, the main character in the new series “Swarm.” In the early episodes, Jones delivers Dre’s character with a timid, recessive quality, while also hinting at a tenacious spirit that blossoms into confidence once Dre starts killing people. Jones uses her entire body to convey Dre’s mix of apprehension and strength, hesitating before delivering a powerful kick to an abusive musclehead or fearlessly pulling herself through a window during a home invasion.
Despite Jones’ captivating performance, however, Dre seems to lack depth, serving more as a conduit for a patchwork of ideas about pressing issues such as female empowerment, identity, and the ways in which Black women are patronized or disregarded. While these ideas are intelligently explored, they don’t coalesce into a dramatic whole that makes sense, dampening the horror-comedy’s potential for both humor and terror. Viewers may initially come for the thrills, but they’ll have to decide whether to stay for the show’s didacticism.