The Swarm (2020) poster

The Swarm (2020)


(La Nuée)

France. 2020.


Director – Just Philipott, Screenplay – Jerome Genevray & Franck Victor, Based on an Original Idea by Jerome Genevray, Photography – Romain Carcanade, Music – Vincent Cahay, Visual Effects – Digital District (Supervisor – Antoine Moulineau), Makeup Effects – Pop FX (Supervisor – Pierre Olivier Persin). Production Company – Capricci/The Jokers International/By Les Bookmakers/Wild Bunch/Arte France Cinema/Canal+/Cine+/Centre National du Cinema et de l’Image Animee/Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Cinema.


Suliane Brahim (Virginie Hebrand), Sofian Khammes (Karim), Marie Narbonne (Laura Hebrand), Raphael Romand (Gaston Hebrand), Stephan Castang (Breeder 1), Victor Bonnel (Kevin), Christian Bouillette (Duvivier), Renan Prevot (Luc)


Virginie Hebrand is struggling to raise two children Laura and Gaston, while maintaining a small farm in the countryside on her own following the death of her husband. She has gambled everything on farming locusts, which can be sold as food or animal feed but this idea is not meeting with much enthusiasm from buyers and her finances are a struggle. After falling in the hatchery one day, Virginie comes around to find the locusts feeding on her blood from her cut. This serves to make them more active energetic. Virginie gets the idea of bringing in more blood to feed the locusts and this serves to make them more furious and energised. However, some of the locusts escape and strip Gaston’s goat to the bone. Virginie becomes more obsessed, putting more and more into feeding the locusts, including her own blood, turning them into something dangerous.

The Swarm was a feature-length debut for French director Just Philpott. Philpott had previously made various short films and a segment of the anthology 4 Histoires Fantastique (2018). The film premiered at the virtual Cannes film festival held during the 2020 pandemic.

The film should not be confused with Irwin Allen’s bad movie classic The Swarm (1978) about killer bees or Swarm (2007) about ants loose on a plane. On a nominal plot level, The Swarm/La Nuée shares similarities with these others – it is an Animals Attack film and a work about Bugs. In these other films, the story is centred around people fighting off an onslaught by some species. By contrast, The Swarm/La Nuée sits more as a Mad Scientist film and is about one person raising a swarm of insects that develop a lethality.

Unlike the other works in these categories, the horror is not so much about the attacks by the particular creatures – well there certainly are such scenes here and they are suitably horrific – but focused on the breeder of the insects and her obsessive descent. If there is a film among these other Animals Attack films you might compare The Swarm/La Nuée to, it would surely be Willard (1971), which charted the disturbed relationship between a downtrodden young man and the rats he befriends (although The Swarm is lacking the revenge and comeuppance fantasy that Willard had).

Suliane Brahim and locusts in The Swarm (2020)
Suliane Brahim and locusts

In actuality, The Swarm becomes a work of Disturbed Psychology about watching Suliane Brahim descend into obsessiveness. The early parts of the film are about her everyday stresses and in particular her economic woes – in trying to keep the farm alive, in trying to sell a product that nobody seems interested in buying, while her children face bullying and ridicule over their mother’s obsession with bugs. These scenes play out with no horror element, they are regular everyday ones that could take place in a mundane drama.

The fascination and eventually horror of the film comes in watching Suliane Brahim’s dive into obsession as she constructs larger and larger hatcheries – even when it seems to make no economic sense (ie. her finances do not seem to be improving) – and then as the locusts escape, first devouring her son’s goat and eventually moving on to attack humans. Her obsession throughout seems to go deeper and deeper to the point she is even using her own blood to feed the locusts after the feed company refuses to deliver any more animal blood to her without a licence. The end does reach a contrived happy wrap-up but the journey there is a great one.

Trailer here

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