‘The Swarm’ is a French thriller with supernatural touches that centers around bloodthirsty insects. A locust farmer who supplies high protein flour made from the insects finds an unlikely way to boost her crop, only to find her methods backfiring with gruesome outcomes. The story skillfully weaves the challenges that rural farmers face with a sinister plot that results in a film which sits firmly in its genre but also runs deep with social commentary. While some aspects are clearly fictional, a lot in the film rings true and could be based on reality. Let’s examine whether ‘The Swarm’ is based on a true story or not.
Is The Swarm Based on a True Story?
No, ‘The Swarm’ is not based on a true story. The film is based on an idea by Jérôme Genevray, which he turned into a screenplay along with Franck Victor. The story found inspiration from multiple sources and was introduced to budding feature film director Just Philippot by one of the film’s producers, Thierry Lounas. The idea for the script was reportedly honed at a feature-length film residency by the two screenwriters, who then tweaked it to encompass the director’s vision. This resulted in ‘The Swarm’ growing from a basic genre film to a layered examination of the characters’ issues and backgrounds, as well as a commentary on larger social and economic issues.
Philippot focussed heavily on grounding the film in reality, especially in its first half, with the objective of creating a connection between realism and fantasy. This is clearly seen in how the film opens with detailed depictions of how the lead character, Virginie, raises her locusts, what she feeds them, and how much flour she can make out of them. The director also wanted to use real locusts and physical stand-ins instead of special effects and asked for thousands of real locusts that the script called for. He was reportedly told he could get a maximum of 6000 and therefore had to judiciously plan how he phrased his narrative to best use them. As the film progresses, he slowly inserts increasingly fantastical aspects into the story so that by the time the climax comes about, the audience feels like anything is possible.
As far as the real-world realities portrayed in the film are concerned, the issues faced by growers and the lengths they have to go to grapple with these challenges played a central role in the film’s main characters. Both Virginie and (to some extent) Karim are troubled by the plummeting prices that buyers are offering for their produce. The latter, a winemaker, worries about selling his stock at a low price to a large-scale buyer and then being forced to sell his stock at ever-decreasing prices in subsequent years. These harsh realities are made all the more striking when we see how passionate they are about their produce, with the film’s central character essentially endangering her childrens’ lives in the hopes of increasing her locust farm’s output.
The film also points a subtle finger at the harsh economic practices that result in such nature-centric practices being thrown off balance, resulting in grotesque new techniques that are unnatural. One could even go so far as to say that the bloodthirsty locusts are a metaphor for harmful agricultural practices (like the growth of GMO products) that turn natural bounties into harmful foods.
Lastly, the supernatural and thriller aspects of the film can’t be ignored, and Philippot admits to taking inspiration from classics like ‘Alien’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’ which have spawned iconic monsters. He also acknowledges inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ which also features a central character that endangers his family because of his obsession with his work, much like Virginie. Here, the director once again draws attention to the fact that the central figure merely loses control, but not her mind. The distinction between getting carried away and going crazy is clearly made, with Virginie eventually saving the day by using her knowledge about locusts being susceptible to drowning.
‘The Swarm’ is unarguably a thriller fantasy film that channels enough of the genre’s essential ingredients to appeal to audiences looking for a hair-raising movie. However, in between its gruesome and sinister plot points is subtle and deep social commentary, as well as an empathetic look at the relationships and economics of the unseen farmers and growers of rural areas.
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