The Movie Waffler Interview - THE SWERVE Director Dean Kapsalis | The Movie Waffler

Interview - THE SWERVE Director Dean Kapsalis

the swerve
Dean Kapsalis discusses his acclaimed horror film.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Winning rave reviews on the festival circuit (you can read ours here), The Swerve stars Azura Skye as an English teacher and suburban mother whose mental state begins to unravel in nightmarish fashion. As The Swerve arrives on US VOD (no UK/ROI release date yet), director Dean Kapsalis discusses his film, its influences and working with Skye to create a disturbing but relatable protagonist.

Hello Dean! What a pleasure it is to be in communication with you regarding The Swerve, the standout film from this year’s FrightFest. Me and my girls really enjoyed it.... well, I say enjoy, but let’s be honest, it is quite a blistering experience! That said, there is nothing exploitative or cheap about The Swerve’s representation of mental illness: the film earns every moment. I wonder if you could introduce the film and talk a little about its genesis, please. I would imagine you had a very clear sense of what you wanted The Swerve to achieve; what ideas and situations does it explore?

Hello Benjamin! It’s my pleasure and I’m extremely happy about your reaction.

The screenplay began from a sketch I did of a distressed woman in a supermarket at midnight, so the entire screenplay was motivated by this character. I think that idea struck me because of my own experiences. I was raised around strong women and over time, I began to see the emotional and physical scars they carried. My observations and experiences lodged in my psyche until they were ready to coincide with my admiration for Gothic novels, Shakespeare, Greek tragedies.

As I was watching the film I was reminded of ‘The Woman’s Film’ genre, sans the melodrama for a grittier contemporary take. Was there a conscious sense of that type of that film when you were making The Swerve? Were there any other specific influences on the film?

I really like the films Repulsion, Carrie (1976), A Woman Under the Influence, and they may have influenced me stylistically, but I refused to watch them while I was writing because I didn’t want to model The Swerve after them. I looked at paintings by Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper and several of Shakespeare’s plays and the Greek tragedies. I point that out quite clearly in a few shots. A work by the Roman poet, Lucretius, also had a big influence.

A major consensus (on social media) during the festival was that Azura Skye was/is incredible in The Swerve. Man alive it is a spectacular performance! Utterly without vanity and the sort of hyperbole which it would be so easy to resort to. Superb. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about Azura’s performance and your collaboration with her.

It was not an easy role to cast. Because it was such a big role, I thought it would be easier. I thought actors would be chomping at the bit to sink their teeth in. However, I learned that the largeness of it proved to be terrifying to actors.

Azura did a great audition. She clearly had the skills, but I also detected vulnerability, strength and anger that I didn’t pick up from other actors.

I spoke with Azura about the character and the feeling and atmosphere I was after. We rehearsed a little, but it was more of a readthrough of the script. There was no improvisation. We costumed her together with the designer and off we went. I never spoke about metaphor and meaning with her or the rest of the cast. I wanted her to feel and experience everything as though it were real for the character of Holly. In the beginning, it took a few days to trust each other and then she quickly got the rhythm I was going for. I think my methods may have sometimes mystified her, but it worked.

In The Swerve there is a sense of reality unravelling, with Holly’s experiences being subjective to the point that they could be imaginary. Without wishing to go into spoiler territory at all, I’m curious as to your take on this: did you work to a definitive storyline where you and the actors knew what was ‘real’ and what was imaginary, or, as the creator, is the ambiguity something you encouraged? What is the purpose of this sense of uncertainty?

All of the actions were in the screenplay, and I refused to let ambiguity enter the equation. I wanted them to feel that everything was real because to them it was. Actors are extraordinary and have enough to concentrate on. I thought that ambiguity and metaphor would muddy their performance.

Also, I want audiences to feel the anxiety through the character. That was my job through direction, editing, music, sound design, etc.

Imagine that The Swerve is going to be programmed as part of a film festival. You can choose two other films to be shown alongside it from any era of cinema. What would they be and how would they link to, support or contrast The Swerve?

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Falconetti’s performance is perhaps the greatest in cinema. It’s so pure, compassionate and visually dynamic.

3 Women (1977). It feels like something that I may have dreamed of. And then bits and pieces come floating back to me and flood me with wonder as to what it all means even though the feeling of it tells me everything I need to know.

Both films are quite unlike and yet like The Swerve. The focus on female leads, patriarchal rule and rejection, delusion, fever dream atmosphere.

Thank you so much, Dean. Good luck with The Swerve. I got so much out of it and I am certain that other audiences will too.

The Swerve is on US VOD now (UK/ROI release TBA).