Movie Review: A teacher goes off the rails after “The Swerve”

Azura Skye’s broken, powerhouse performance animates “The Swerve,” a brittle psychological thriller about a woman on the edge.

As Holly, a teacher, wife and mother breaking under the strains of holding an extended family, a home and her classroom together, dismissed, badgered and berated by all around her, the veteran character actress makes a Melissa Leo in “Frozen River”/Viola Davis in “Doubt” “star is born” statement.

First-time feature director Dean Kapsalis keeps his camera tight on Skye’s haunted face, letting her hollowed-out eyes show the impact of every body blow, every humiliation, every moment Holly is taken for granted.

Her husband (Bryce Pinkham) is too wrapped up in “getting that promotion” at the supermarket to get what’s going on. Her two foul-mouthed kids think nothing of interrupting her every conversation, leaning on her for every tiny detail of their school day routine, blaming her for every thing that doesn’t tick over like clockwork.

And her high school English classes test her constantly, and ignore her mostly.

Let’s not mention her needy/judgemental mother (Deborah Hedwall) and beat-you-down-so-I-don’t-feel-small sister Claudia (Ashley Bell).

It’s no wonder stops at the bathroom medicine cabinet for her daily dose. Wouldn’t you?

When she asks drunken husband Rob, in the middle of love-making, “Is it always going to be like this?” there is no answer that won’t bring silent tears.

It isn’t just one thing that breaks her. It’s the mouse she sees in the house that Rob doesn’t concern himself with. It’s the cruel way Claudia, in a family dinner that plays like an intervention — for Claudia — lashes out, laughing, at some long ago blemish on Holly’s family reputation. It’s the stoned, hooting and hollering redneck goons who threaten her on a back road on the drive home from that “party.”

That’s where “The Swerve” gets its title. Holly’s medicated journey makes her wonder if that really happened, if anything of this stuff (the mouse “was staring at me” or “attacked me”) is a big a deal as she is treating it.

The story, just a hellish week in Holly’s hellish-for-years life, and Skye’s unerring portrayal take us on her downward spiral — the lashing out that takes many forms, the self-loathing that drives her psychosis.

Kapsalis has written and directed an engrossing “woman on the verge” tale. But it is Azura Skye who draws us into it, earns our sympathy and makes us fear for how far this woman will be pushed before she pushes back, or snaps altogether.

MPAA Rating: Unrated, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham, Ashley Bell

Credits: Written and directed by Dean Kapsalis. An Epic release.

Running time: 1:35

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