★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A woman battles depression, rodents, guilt, and more in this superbly acted slow burner that is certain to haunt viewers long after its ending credits roll.
Directed by Dean Kapsalis
The Swerve, the sensational debut feature from writer/director Dean Kapsalis, is bound to be one of the most harrowing, unsettling slices of cinema to make the film festival rounds this year, regardless of genre. It packs a wallop during viewing, leaves you slack-jawed after its haunting third act, and will stay on your mind for days after watching it.
Holly (Azura Skye in a superb performance) is a high school teacher, a wife, and a mother of two boys, but she is battling depression and possibly some other psychological issues. She fears that she has been bitten by a mouse and has contracted rabies, despite her physician insisting that she doesn’t have the disease, and finds herself being more and more burdened by problems from both her immediate family and her estranged, substance-abusing sister Claudia (genre film favorite Ashley Bell of Psychopaths  and Carnage Park ). Her husband Rob (Bryce Pinkham) is too concerned about a possible job promotion — and other distractions — to pay much attention to her, and her sons rarely talk to her other than making demands.
The only person who reaches out to her is her student Paul (Zach Rand), who winds up making matters worse. After a reluctant visit to her parents’ home where Claudia shows why Holly wanted to avoid her for so long, the latter takes an ill-fated solo drive home that sets her downward spiral into faster motion. This slow burn psychological chiller unravels slowly, documenting Holly’s lonely descent into utter despair.
The Swerve is driven by Skye’s bravura performance, which is absolutely riveting. The rest of the cast is fine, too, with Bell giving an outstanding turn. The facial expressions alone from these two fine performers constitute a veritable acting clinic. Kapsalis paces the proceedings masterfully, wonderfully assisted by the sharp cinematography of Daryl Pittman and a fittingly brooding score by Mark Korven. With elements of a certain Greek myth that would be unfair to name here for spoiler reasons, and shades of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968), The Swerve is never an easy watch, but it is a truly rewarding one.
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This Moroccan/French horror outing may remind you more than a little of Stephen King’s It, but its local-color folk horror approach makes it more than worth a look.
Directed by Talal Selhami
You will be hard pressed to find a reviewer or viewer of Moroccan/French effort Achoura who will describe it without making reference to its similarities with Stephen King’s classic It — the novel and the different television miniseries and recent film versions. Those who would immediately dismiss it for that reason and not watch the film would be doing themselves a disservice, though.
Director Talal Selhami has crafted an eerie take on the loss of innocence by using the titular Moroccan tradition, also known as Children’s Night, as a springboard and putting a supernatural spin on things as a group of kids come into contact with a demon that eats children to consume their joy and innocence. More than 20 years later, the demon is set free again and the now-adult friends must battle it to prevent it from killing more youngsters. The friends have dealt with their horrific childhood experience in different ways. For example, Stéphane (Iván González of Cold Skin ) has decided to create macabre works of art, while Nadia (Sofiia Manousha) insists that they are harboring memories of a sexual predator.
Although the basic premise may ring familiar, Achoura boasts a good deal of originality and is ultimately a fun fright flick that offers a fine share of suspense, a cool-looking demon (though the film sometimes shows its limitations regarding CGI effects), and solid performances from an ensemble cast playing characters for whom it is easy to like and get behind.
Both The Swerve and Achoura are screening at Cinepocalypse Film Fest, which runs June 13–20 in Chicago, Illinois.