‘Swarm’ Review: Amazon Prime Video, Donald Glover, Dominique Fishback

TV lost a true visionary when Donald Glovers Atlanta finished a spectacular four-season run on FX last year. Luckily for us, he’s not done making great TV just yetand Atlanta fans will feel right at home with his new horror thriller Swarm, premiering this Friday on Prime Video. (I’ve seen all seven episodes.) Brutally violent and darkly funny, Swarm is a stunning statement about the dangers of extreme fandom, anchored by a terrific and terrifying lead performance from Dominique Fishback, destined to rank as one of the very best of the year.

Amazon Prime Video - March 2023Fishback (Deuce) stars as Dre, a devoted superfan of a Beyoncé-like pop idol named Ni’Jah, whose fanatical following is known as The Swarm. (As one character notes, “Talk about Ni’Jah, you get stung.”) Dre and her sister Marissa (Chloe Bailey) used to be big Ni’Jah fans together, but now Marissa has grown up and moved on, while Dre is still stuck in teenybopper mode obsessing over Ni’Jah’s every move. When tragedy strikes, it spirals Dre into a very dark place…and sends her on a wild killing spree across the country, exacting vengeance on anyone who dares question Ni’Jah’s supremacy.

Glover (credited as co-creator and executive producer) teams up with Atlanta writer Janine Nabers, who serves as showrunner here, and they bring Atlanta‘s unsettlingly surreal tone and dark humor with those of Dre’s story. Swarm is vividly rendered and thick with atmosphere, set in mundane settings that make the violence stand out even more. It also puts us in a sickening moral position: Dre is funny and even likable at times… but then she snaps and sees red with a disturbing buzzing sound ringing in her ears. (She asks her victims, “Who’s your favorite artist?” and anyone who doesn’t say Ni’Jah soon regrets that decision.) We don’t exactly root for her, but she’s undeniably fascinating nonetheless.

Swarm Trailer Amazon Donald GloverBailey and Snowfall star Damson Idris does nice work here in small roles, but this is Fishback’s show all the way and she gets away with it. Dre is an odd duck: socially awkward and completely lacking in recognizable human emotion, but also almost childish. (When she hears a song by Ni’Jah playing, she looks like she’s possessed.) Fishback masterfully shifts from Dre’s public discomfort, with twitching legs and sudden eye darts, to her secret bloodlust with admirable ease. By the end, Dre completely transforms and takes Fishback’s already excellent performance to incredible new heights. If there is any justice in this world, her name will be remembered come Emmy time.

Swarm becomes episodic as Dre criss-crosses the country, falling in with a friendly group of strippers and then an NVIXM-like “female empowerment group,” with a stealth appearance from a true pop superstar making it all very meta. It’s getting a bit repetitive – another recent example of a limited series that probably could have just been a movie. (A detour into true-crime parody, while fun, only serves to dull the main story’s momentum.) But Fishback’s performance never gets stale, and while Glover and Nabers’ tale takes some pretty wild turns at the end, it’s one hell of a trip that I will not forget in the near future.

TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Donald Glover proves he can do horror too Swarmanchored by a dazzling lead performance from Dominique Fishback.

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