Photo from Prime Video
“This is not a work of fiction” is the first disclaimer that “Swarm” presents to its audience, a complete contradiction to the fictional show that begins seconds later. Although this may simply seem like playful wording for the first episode, this bewildering statement is only the beginning of the insanity that “Swarm” plans to impose on the audience. “Swarm” is a psychological horror, thriller, and dark comedy miniseries created by producers Janine Nabers and Donald Glover.
“Swarm” provides a unique take on one of the most dangerous phenomenons of the modern era: stan culture. To be a “stan” means to be an overzealous fan of a celebrity, which may span from placing celebrity posters on your bedroom wall, to arguing online with “haters,” to becoming a serial killer. At least, that’s the case for the show’s protagonist, Dre, who is played by Dominique Fishback.
Dre is an obsessive superfan of the world-renowned pop star Ni’jah, who mirrors Beyoncé; she is a core member of the pop star’s fanbase, the “swarm,” a play on Beyoncé’s fanbase, the “Beyhive.” After suffering from a traumatic childhood and being treated like an outsider by most of the people around her, Dre uses Ni’jah as her personal outlet.
As a result, Dre’s biggest dream is to meet the popstar alongside her sister, Marissa, played by Chloe Bailey. After the tragic death of Marissa, Dre makes it her life mission to complete the promise she once made to her sister and finally meet Ni’jah. With her mental health at an all-time low, Dre also vows to “silence” anyone who dares to insult Ni’jah along the way.
With the series only consisting of seven episodes, “Swarm” follows the fast-paced and bloody road trip that Dre embarks on as she gives her all to reach her goal by any means necessary. Demented, hilarious and frightening, the show provides an unforgettable rollercoaster ride of a viewing experience, even if the deeper message it attempts to convey throughout the runtime feels rather unevolved.
“Sometimes…it’s good to give in.” This quote may have erupted halfway through the season in the context of a conversation about eating junk food, but it perfectly encompasses a feeling that continues to resurface in nearly every episode. Throughout the show, Dre commits murder out of sadness, anger, and desperation.
On paper, Dre is a horrifying character that most couldn’t wait to see behind bars. However, as I watched the humanization that Fishback breathed into Dre through her captivating performance, I couldn’t help but smile when witnessing Dre succeed through her luck and wits, regardless of how bloody the show became. This is not only due to Fishback’s stellar acting, but also because of the erratically comedic themes spread throughout the show.
Through the show’s exceptional creation of atmosphere through the show’s editing, directing and soundtrack usage, the audience has the green light to cry, laugh or scream in shock, regardless of the plot occurring at that moment. “Swarm” never takes itself too seriously or delves too deep into triggering topics, which can be seen as both a gift and a curse. This modulation of mood that “Swarm” resides in allows viewers of views to enjoy the subversive show.
However, the show’s relaxed attitude towards dark themes do not mean that the show in any way resembles a simple popcorn flick. One underrated aspect of “Swarm” is that at its core, the show is mainly a plot device to speak about topics that Nabers and Glover deem important. As a character states, “I don’t appreciate you portraying [stans] as monsters.”
“Swarm” is incredibly self-aware and acknowledges the potential harm it may cause. Rather than pursue harsh judgment of real people for the sake of entertainment, the show would much rather shine a light on the unacknowledged mentality of these characters, while also bringing up other important issues through these characters along the way.
“Swarm” uses a unique plotline to investigate multiple topics that typically lie unacknowledged. During the 20- to 30-minute runtimes of its episodes, the show finds a way to connect the dangers of cults and parasocial relationships, the issue of Black women’s voices being ignored, the deeper meaning of food addiction, the poor treatment of children in foster care, and many more.
These topics are addressed through unconventional methods that “Swarm” has no issue diving into, such as including real murder cases within storylines and even creating a fake documentary episode that completely recontextualizes the entire show.
Overall, “Swarm” is an extreme passion project with a high budget, and it’s better because of that. This sense of freedom allows “Swarm” to tap into unique and exciting areas that have never been addressed on television. This sense of freedom sometimes feels boundless throughout the show; as a result, the show never reaches satisfactory conclusions for most viewers.
“Swarm” may not feel fully realized by the time it ends, but the show is an assuredly rare and unmissable experience. The viewer empathizes with its characters and themes throughout the show, through its powerful messages that previous showrunners were too afraid to touch.
I give Swarm 3.5 out of five crabs!
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