“Swarm”: Obsession Spirals into Instability

Get ready to be glued to your seat with Swarm, the latest dark comedy/psychological thriller from the multi-talented trio of Donald Glover, Janine Nabers, and Stephen Glover. This innovative and chilling show explores the twisted mind of a “stan” turned serial killer, combining Glover’s signature storytelling style with a dark and unsettling atmosphere that will leave you on edge. 

What exactly is a “stan”? The term appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017 and was defined as an overly enthusiastic fan. It originates from Eminem’s symbolic song “Stan,” released in 2000. But during the last two decades, it has taken on a life of its own, with fans proudly identifying themselves as members of fan bases like Lady Gaga’s “little monsters,” Taylor Swift’s “Swifties,” and Beyoncé’s “Beyhive.” These fans are next-level and will go to great lengths to defend their favorite celebrity online and in real life. 

Horror is and continues to be popular. In 2020, horror movies had the largest share at the box office and broke their own record again in 2021. Have you ever wondered why? Especially in an era when we’ve experienced both a pandemic and countless mass shootings and when we’re inundated with 24-hour news cycles?

One reason for their success is that they are cheap to make. Also, they can provide a cathartic way to deal with the trauma we’ve all endured. A study in Personality and Individual Differences supports this idea, suggesting that horror fans and “morbidly curious audiences” exhibited more resilience and less psychological distress during COVID-19. 

I myself have always been a fan of horror. I prefer psychological thrillers to those with jump scares, but to each her own. Movies can be an effective way to process fear, so if you find yourself seeking out some unsettling fiction — book, movie, TV show, or other — be reassured that it is a common practice. Besides, these genres often feature complex characters and storylines that keep us hooked and explore deep themes like morality and human nature. And Swarm is no exception. 

Swarm follows the story of Dre, a young Black woman played by the talented Dominique Fishback, who was nominated for a BAFTA award for best supporting actress in Judas and the Black Messiah. Dre is obsessed with a pop star named Ni’Jah, and her obsession is compounded by her sister’s suicide in the first episode. We watch as a switch flips in Dre after her sister’s death. She spirals into instability as she holds onto the one thing in her life that has meaning — her idol. So, when anyone disrespects her Ni’Jah, Dre dishes out swift and brutal justice with whatever heavy object is within reach. 

Dre has no sense of remorse; it’s like she is feeding this internal void with junk food and murder. Eventually, however, she goes on the run and changes her appearance to avoid capture. So, on some level, she knows she’s out of control, but she just doesn’t care.

This darkly comic satire explores the effects of fan culture and social media on a person who feels like an outcast. Dre’s actions are shocking, weird, and hilarious in equal measure, but they also shed light on the darker aspects of fandom. Her violence is an extreme view of fan culture and how it might play out in real life. 

Fishback’s standout performance is nothing short of hypnotic. Once you start watching, it’s hard to stop. In Episode 2, Dre is over how a fellow stripper, Halsey, played by Paris Jackson, is treated by her misogynist, freeloading boyfriend. Dre waits until Halsey is asleep and heads over to kill him. A part of me is cheering Dre on, but another part recognizes the extreme response and illegal action. But isn’t that the point of a great antihero? She is supposed to make you envious of her freedom and simultaneously horrified by her actions. Dre’s descent into instability and violence is nuanced and believable, making the character both sympathetic and horrifying. 

The supporting cast, including Billie Eilish, who plays Eva in Episode 4, and many other talented actors, deliver excellent performances that add depth and complexity to the series. Swarm is a must-watch cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked obsession and the dark side of celebrity fandom. This series leaves a lasting impression. 

Created by Donald Glover, Janine Nabers, and Stephen Glover
Starring Dominique Fishback
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video