October has been a busy month for horror and genre-adjacent releases, with nearly 40 different titles hitting various digital platforms and streaming services. Here’s a look at a pair of recent titles that this writer had the opportunity to check out: The Swerve from Dean Kapsalis and Jeffrey Reddick’s directorial debut, Don’t Look Back.
The Swerve: In writer/director Dean Kapsalis’ The Swerve, we’re introduced to the very stressed-out Holly (Azura Skye), a high school teacher and mother of two boys whose marriage is practically on life support. Holly has spent most of her life trying to do right by everyone else, as we see through her masterfully created homemade apple pies, her penchant for keeping everything organized in her family, or the amount of verbal abuse she passively absorbs from her bitchy younger sister, Claudia (Ashley Bell). The reality is that Holly is a woman on the verge of totally losing it, and when something seemingly innocuous as a mouse showing up inside her house happens, we see just how thinly stretched she is and how quickly Holly’s life can spiral out of control.
While “women on the edge” narratives are hardly a new thing, there’s something about the framing of Kapsalis’ character study in The Swerve that feels unique, compelling, and extremely relatable, even if most of us wouldn’t dare travel down the same destructive path that Holly does here. Throughout the film, we watch as this woman who has been put upon by so many people in her life as the proverbial glue holding everything together as she slowly begins to unravel, where ultimately, she ends up becoming something of a bystander in her own life, unable to step in and take full control any longer, and you can’t help but feel horrible for where it’s all leading, despite some of the missteps she makes along the way.
What makes The Swerve such a powerhouse viewing experience is just how easily everything falls apart with Holly, which is why aspects of the story end up packing such a wallop. One bad decision takes her character to some unfortunate places, leading up to a tragic conclusion that hits like a huge gut-punch. The Swerve may not necessarily be a genre film per se, but there’s something quite unsettling about watching someone self-destruct in front of your very eyes. Skye’s performance is a revelation, and her portrayal of Holly’s quiet desperation that bubbles over into full-blown self-destruction by the end of The Swerve is something that deserves to be discussed for years to come.
Movie Score: 4/5
Don’t Look Back: For his feature-length directorial debut, Jeffrey Reddick blends the supernatural with real-life horrors in Don’t Look Back, a genre-infused morality tale that has a bit of a social consciousness to it that also manages to work in a handful of other elements in as well, like slasher tropes, a home invasion angle coupled with PTSD, a stalker-esque subplot, and a dash of religious iconography to boot. There’s certainly a lot going on in Don’t Look Back, but Reddick does a great job of managing everything, resulting in an impressive first feature for the longtime writer and producer.
Don’t Look Back is centered around Caitlin (Kourtney Bell), a young woman who suffered through a horrendous home invasion that left her father dead and is now doing her best to live with that trauma. One day while she’s out on a run, she witnesses a violent crime alongside several other onlookers that results in the death of the victim. Caitlin ends up calling the police eventually, but the damage is done: she and the other eyewitnesses are dubbed by the media as “Bad Samaritans” and soon enough, society dubs them all social pariahs. Beyond being ostracized, those who stood by the attack end up being hunted down by a mysterious entity, and these “Samaritans” must try to figure out just who—or what—is after them before it’s too late.
As mentioned, there is a lot going on in Don’t Look Back, and while the story does get a little too overly ambitious at times, Reddick does a great job of reining it all back in during the third act. The film definitely gives off some Final Destination vibes at times (especially with its setup), but it’s very clear that Reddick isn’t looking to retread the same territory here as he’s done before, and he’s able to subvert expectations at various points in the story. Bell’s performance provides Don’t Look Back with a much-needed emotional anchor, and overall, I really enjoyed what Reddick was able to bring to the table as a director here, and I do hope we get to see more projects with him at the helm in the future.
Movie Score: 3/5