'Swarm' Review: Prime Video's Horror Series Takes Stan Culture to the Extreme
"Who's your favorite artist?"
The resurgence of horror is well underway, and Swarm is the latest production to prove that it's a genre worthy of your respect. Created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the Prime Video original contemplates stan culture, centering on a fan willing to murder to defend her idol.
The horror-thriller series follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a Houston native and deranged fan of the world’s biggest pop star Ni'Jah — whose artistry and persona strongly resemble that of musical phenom Beyoncé, down to her fandom name (The Swarm) and her music mogul husband, Caché. The show dives into Dre’s life and explains how her obsession with Ni'Jah leads her on a treacherous and unexpected cross-country journey.
With eerie cinematography, on-point comedic timing, and a searing performance from Dominique Fishback, Swarm will have horror fans forgetting about all the other social media–themed endeavors littering our screens.
Prime Video Premiere: March 17, 2023
Creator: Donald Glover and Janine Nabers
Executive Producers: Donald Glover, Janine Nabers, Stephen Glover, Fam Udeorji, Steven Prinz, and Michael Schaefer
Producer: Dominique Fishback
Cast: Dominique Fishback, Chloë Bailey, Damson Idris, Rickey Thompson, Paris Jackson, Rory Culkin, Kiersey Clemons, and Byron Bowers
7 Episodes, Rated TV-MA
Each episode opens with the disclaimer, "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional." Although Dre's character is fictional, many of the pop culture events and crimes featured in the narrative are factual — they're primarily inspired by internet rumors and real news stories linked to Beyoncé.
The series hilariously recreates several unforgettable moments in Beyoncé's life for the small screen, including the infamous elevator attack and the time someone bit her face. It's very specific and self-aware while simultaneously using stories from a significant cultural icon to provide a basis in reality.
The narrative is simple, yet it succeeds in telling a personal story of a Black woman who comes alive through violence.
Surprisingly brutal and cutthroat scenarios — Dre's murderous rampage — elevate and heighten the intensity of what is likely the first portrayal of a Black female serial killer. The pilot serves as an origin story of sorts for the villainous Dre, a layered character who's not always the most reliable narrator.
With themes of celebrity worship and the toxicity of stan culture, the series promotes conversations surrounding cyberbullying.
Brief shots showcase mean tweets about Ni'Jah, bashing her music and her decision to stay with her unfaithful husband. They're all hiding behind screens, so there's no chance they will have to own up to their words, right? Wrong! Several scenes show Dre tracking them down, breaking into their homes, and making them take accountability for their remarks in a not-so-kind way.
Although the show doesn’t necessarily dive into the psychology of the antihero, Dominique Fishback portrays Dre with a sense of unsettling depravity and unpredictability. The BAFTA nominee’s dedication to Dre’s disturbing obsession is consistent throughout, and she instantly disappears behind the killer’s troubling persona.
Dre seems to be void of a guilty conscience — she's an offbeat and homicidal woman who hasn't been given the proper tools to grieve her loss. She hides behind false identities and fabricated-but-believable tales. Dominique delivers by embodying distinct characteristics for each identity — as Carmen, she's seductive and alluring in her movements, but as Tony, she's free and easy with a gentle smile.
At times, it seems like Dre doesn't know how to occupy her body — Dominique plays into this element, developing a rather stiff walk and dragging her feet. The moments we witness her panic have nothing to do with her own moral culpabilities but rather her fear of missing an important milestone in Ni'Jah’s career. Before she greets Ni'Jah at a party, she goes through a repertory of leg twitches, restless fidgets, and hair touchings as she tries to shake out her nervousness and look at ease.
Toward the end of the series, Dre encounters yet another Ni'Jah hater. As this individual goes on and on about their distaste for the singer, the sound of buzzing bees arises — which typically indicates Dre's killer instinct. Dominique flawlessly displays this through a prolonged, fixed stare that feels ominous and uncomfortable.
As the sleazy boyfriend of Dre's sister, Damson Idris completely embodies the f–kboy persona, swaggering into rooms with a cocky smirk and shamelessly flirting with Dre any chance he gets.
Aside from top-tier acting and a thrilling storyline, the cinematography is distressing in the best way. Several scenes depicting bloodshed are shot from a low angle — this makes Dre appear daunting and all the more powerful, while also placing viewers in a submissive position (as if to mimic the victim's point of view).
Dre's scenes with her sister, Marissa (Chloe Bailey), feature a mix of angles, but in one instance, the camera glides toward a bed and hangs over them. This seems to suggest the warm bond between the two.
If you're a horror fanatic, Swarm is a series you do not want to miss.
It's unlike anything ever done before, with a Black female serial killer at the forefront and plenty of unpredictable moments that leave viewers applauding, laughing, and gasping for air all at once. You see, being a cold-blooded brute pays off sometimes. But the next time someone asks you who your favorite artist is, run the other way.
Swarm premieres Friday, March 17, only on Prime Video.