My first film experience of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival was SWING LOW and it was definitely an eye opener. If I needed any convincing that Horrible Imaginings wasn’t playing around, SWING LOW convinced me.
SWING LOW was written and directed by Teddy Grennan, who has worked in animation, written web pilots and founded a film festival of his own and SWING LOW is his first feature. It stars Annabelle Dexter-Jones, who was in one of my crazy art film favorites Holy Motors, Joshua Brady – Halt And Catch Fire, Robert Longstreet – The Haunting of Hill House, Sorry To Bother You, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, and the legendary actor Bruce Dern. It concerns Harper, a nature photographer who goes into the countryside alone looking for rare animals. Things start to go bad very quickly as Harper stumbles on the torture and murder of an unknown man by a group of locals to the valley. She stays quiet and manages to snap some photos of the murder and the perpetrators and escapes. Completely unnerved, she goes to the nearest town and tries to report the crime to the sheriff. To her horror, she finds herself captured by the murderers and tortured herself. Harper is actually a very tough and inventive woman, so she manages to escape and then is left to defend herself from a pack of men who will show her no mercy.
SWING LOW is a movie where the monsters are people. There’s even a bit of moral ambiguity because the murderous gang did have a reason why they killed the first man. However, the glee that they take in pursuing Harper and the awful things they do to her do lessen any sympathy that you might have for them. TW: Harper is raped by these men, but the rape isn’t shown in any detail and it mostly implied by bruises and scrapes on Harper’s body and by the taunts of one of the villains. I think it is a responsible way to deal with the subject and not exploitative at all. Harper is very practical and skilled at defending herself. She is no Final Girl, she is a tough woman who wants to live and make the men who hurt her pay for what they’ve done. She reminds me of Erin from You’re Next, a woman who you might underestimate, but who is a capable hunter of humans when the situation calls for it.
During the introduction of the film, Miguel Rodriguez, the founder of Horrible Imaginings quoted one of his female programmers whose only reaction were the words Holy Fuck. I would agree. While the movie is very violent and brutal, I never got a feeling of sleaziness about it. It’s as brutal as it needs to be to tell the story. I was probably a little less surprised than most people by the film since a key set piece was very reminiscent of an episode of Hannibal from the second season which was one of my favorites. While it is reminiscent, Grennan added his own personal spin on the situation and I have to say that I was impressed from that scene and the movie in general with his audacity.
The performances across the board are very good and believable. The country folk aren’t, for the most part, your stereotypical evil country bumpkins. The actors, especially Robert Longstreet, as the main antagonist, and Bruce Dern, add depth and subtlety to the film with their work. Just the short amount of time that Bruce Dern was on screen was extremely worthwhile and welcome. Annabelle Dexter-Ward does a fantastic job as the lead Harper. Even when she makes errors, it’s believable why she did and never reaches the low of being a mistake made at the service of the script. She is likeable and relatable as a real woman, not a horror archetype. My one disappointment was one actor who went for the stereotypical evil hillbilly portrayal, but luckily he wasn’t around for that long.
SWING LOW is a tension filled, realistic horror movie about the evil that men do and how things can go very wrong very quickly. It presents a strong female character who isn’t waiting around to be rescued and I like that. She’s not a super powered spy or superhero, just any ordinary woman who refuses to lie down and die. I think film, especially horror, could use a bit more of that kind of feminine grit.