Obsession is one of the innate aspects of our social culture. We often find ourselves obsessed with anything that can pull us out of our normal lives: books, games, movies, you name it. However, when obsessions get out of hand, they can manifest harmful thoughts and habits that can make extreme changes to your personality. This can especially happen for those hooked on social media, something that many people look to for some connection. In Amazon Prime Video’s Swarm, the series focuses on the mental subjugation of celebrity fandoms through the eyes of one afflicted superfan.
Co-created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, Swarm follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a young girl whose extreme obsession with a national pop star puts her on a journey, both physically and psychologically. Set between 2016-2018, Dre’s unhealthy obsession with Ni’Jah, the star in question, along with a shared social connection with her best friend Marissa (Chloë Bailey) leads her down a road of unbridled emotion. With Dre wanting a hyper-intensive, social connection with her favorite celebrity, Swarm serves as an enthralling, in-depth look of stan culture, para-social relationships, and the stubbornness of letting go.
Swarm successfully encapsulates its viewers into Dre’s disjointed reality from the rest of the world through its cinematography. Most of the scenes puts Dre and her circumstances at a distance, creating a distressing suspense that separates the sensible from what actually occurs in the scene. Whenever Dre is on her own, the camera brings the viewer close and personal, bridging Dre’s social neediness to the realm of social media to represent Dre’s psychological mindset in such a compelling way. Assisted by the music and auditory cues that buzz around Dre, these aspects are able to capture what unhealthy obsession could be like in the show’s own unique way. In addition, both Dominique Fishback and Chloë Bailey’s performances help highlight the social themes and realism that the show puts on full display.
Right from the get-go, Dominique Fishback’s performance as Dre is astounding, bringing both nuance and spirit to Dre’s indifference and emotion. In the scenes where we do get to see Dre’s true self peering out, Fishback is able to create a strong complexity in her own reservation, bridled by loss. In each situation Dre is put in, Fishback manages to balance Dre’s growing introverted-ness with an unbridled passion whenever she gets the chance to intervene. When paired with Chloë Bailey’s Marissa, the two create this realistic chemistry that feels natural and innately gripping through their shared connection of idolizing Ni’Jah. Certainly, Bailey is able to play off Fishback’s Dre in a truly loving way and the scenes where the two share the screen, it’s definitely not to be taken for granted.
While Swarm serves as a timeline for Dre’s journey, each episode contains its own distinctive story that both propels Dre’s character forward while being enticing individually. Dre’s circumstances constantly change throughout the show, but the pacing of each episode has the establishment of a thriller movie that continues to keep up its tension. In between the moments of tension, the personal moments that we get with Dre are all the more impactful and almost serve to humanize her character. However, Dre’s character is still kept true all throughout, with her obsessive impulses taking charge of her actions. The first four episodes especially have their own uniqueness in developing who Dre is and becomes, but I’ll have to keep it on that within non-spoiler territory.
If there is one pitfall that Swarm falls in, it would have to be some of the character and dialogue choices that we get throughout the show. Now, some characters are particularly standout, but some others feel as if their own intensity slightly falters. Some of the takes on these characters are a bit odd, but they do their best to contribute to the overall commentary of the physical social reality and the digital para-social space. Para-social relationships, and within it the idea of “stanning”, are a core idea that Swarm takes to its fullest and plays it so to create a heavy positive where its side character set falters. With a strong handle on its story and main characters, this show is definitely one to look out for.
Overall, Swarm is a great encapsulation of what it means to take obsessions and loves to the next level, outside of the norm. Fishback and Bailey put on some of the most captivating and realistic performances of their careers and surrounding them with an insightful story makes this show amazing. With permeating commentary on social media, para-social relationships and obsessions, Swarm is able to not only become Prime Video’s next hit thriller series, but also become a convincing argument as to how we conduct ourselves in a connected space filled with people like us.
Swarm premieres on Prime Video on March 17.