Swarm (2023-) Review - SXSW 2023
Fan culture as a whole can be incredibly daunting to navigate. To an outsider looking in, the unrivaled sense of intensity from fans driven by their devotion to their favorite icons may make them out to be blatantly unhinged. Amazon Prime Video's horror-comedy Swarm never mentions the name Beyonce once. While the BeyHive is not directly called out by name, the Donald Glover and Janine Nabers co-created series locks down the more extreme side of music fandom. Swarm's shock value digs deep into its real-world inspiration, and the introductory text before each episode begins - “this is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is intentional" - holds no bars.
Swarm comments on the psychological ramifications of obsession with media, especially the harms of "stan" culture and those who sacrifice their livelihoods to support their favorite pop culture icons. While the show itself may come across as an acquired taste due to its dark humor and increasingly-violent plot at hand, it's Dominique Fishback's performance at Dre that is so incredibly hypnotic. Swarm is truly as disturbed as its main character, and it's the unapologetically repulsive, deeply unsettling aura around the show that makes it so memorable. Mundane and nearly uninteresting settings that become backdrops for violence make the brutality of Amazon Prime Video's Swarm all the more jarring.
Loneliness and isolation have been depicted in media across a multitude of mediums. Exploring the insanity of key characters has served as an age-old plot point, but Amazon Prime Video's Swarm taps into a new perspective of how the digital age and parasocial relationships warp the perception of reality. Fishback's presence as Dre is the standout component of the series so far - without her unconventional dive into madness, Swarm would struggle to hold any attention. It's Dre that serves as the glue of the series, and there would be some lack of coherency without a magnetic performance from Fishback. The heavy reliance on the lead is where Swarm gambles the hardest. The show is quick to designate its audience while trying to decide whether it's a horror or black comedy. Because Swarm appeals to such a specific, acquired taste, it's a challenge to determine its quality while understanding that it's not crafted to please every viewer.
Amazon Prime Video's Swarm's intentionally divisive and bothersome storytelling, along with allusions to Queen Bey and her dedicated following, are buzzworthy. Because the show has so much to say about relationships - inside of fan culture and otherwise - while twisting itself across genres, it stands as a televised chameleon. Glover and Nabers have prepared an uber-stylized show chock full of viral-ready conversation starters that are sure to set social media ablaze. It's almost meta when thinking about social media users responding to a series born out of response to their own behavior. Swarm is unapologetically bizarre and becomes comfortable with discomfort. It's fair to understand that the risks taken by the show will contribute to the overall polarization, leading to the decision for some to abandon the series altogether.
Media has served as a reflection of reality, and Amazon Prime Video's next addition to their streaming library doesn't hold back when capturing the uglier side of super-fandom. While Swarm may be considered strange for some, it's the bold strokes that the show is painted with that make it all the more intriguing. It's unpleasant with a purpose. 6.5/10.