There’s something unique about actress Dominique Fishback that it’s hard to place a finger on. Some of my colleagues, in reviewing her work, talk about the power of her gaze. I’d agree. Fishback was riveting in HBO’s “The Deuce” and is one of the reasons that I’ve listed the series over the years.
In the new Prime Video limited series “Swarm,” Fishback plays Dre, the ultimate fan (a crazy one), but in this horror satire, her performance elevates the genre and the written material.
“Who’s your favorite artist,” asks Dre because the answer she’s looking for is
Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), the reigning pop princess who looks and sounds like the rise of Beyoncé, including how her followers borderline on being members of a cult who will cancel someone (digitally) for any insult real or perceived.
Dre’s in her 20s with very little (if, any) love in her life sans her childhood, best friend and roommate Marissa (Chloe Bailey) who is just as involved with singer Ni’Jah; something that binds them throughout their lives.
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But Marissa is more grounded and she’s hustling to build a career as a hair and makeup artist desperate to break into the entertainment field. To say that Dre is passive is a massive understatement. She bounces between dead-end day jobs when she’s not dancing at a gentleman’s club.
It seems the only thing that makes Dre come alive is her devotion to Ni’Jah and the tribe of diehard devotees/fans. She’s literally memorized every album and choreography. And instead of paying back due rent, she purchases concert tickets that are insanely expensive. But, that’s the question: how far will Ms. Dre go to show her undying commitment to the world of Ni’Jah?
Now, talking about the series becomes tricky. No spoiler alerts are allowed. I don’t want to spoil the joy of it. “Swarm” was created by Donald Glover (Atlanta) and Janine Nabers, a frequent collaborator on Atlanta. Glover directed the pilot which is a beautiful mix of African culture and surreal horror. An interesting note, Malia Obama was part of the “Swarm” writers’ room and is credited as Malia Ann.
“Swarm” is linear which helps us try to make sense of Dre’s internal motivations. The goes on a road trip from the spot that she, and Ni’Jah share. Her goal is to meet her idol where, in her mind, they will become best friends.
There’s a lot to unpack about the toxic level that some fans fall into. A lot of that access (or perceived access) comes from social media. So much access. So little context. Almost zero filters. And remember the age-old saying: people believe what they believe which is a massive problem that seems to be growing.
Ni’Jah is a full-on character who manages to dazzle even in silhouettes and Shadows which I think is smart. She’s supposed to be mysterious, overexposed, and unknowable. It makes an audience want to know her more. Imagine, her name — Ni’Jah — and legendary status is in every frame. The entire series “Swarm” is about her but she’s in few scenes. Such. An. Intelligent. Choice. The creators get it.
What we know and care about this superstar — Ni’Jah— comes from the mind heart, and soul of Dre, the perfect unreliable narrator.
This brings me back to Fishback and her amazing performance. It’s not too early to say that she’s the next generation of great actresses to watch and keep an eye on, closely. She’s been smartly and quietly building her body of work, under the radar of most but not all. This is a horror series but an important fact to highlight (again) is that maybe it’s more of a slasher genre with bloody kills. But what makes it hard to define, genre-wise is because of Fishback’s creation of her character, Dre who’s emotional levels are pitch-perfect.
There are just seven episodes of “Swarm” (Prime Video) with most running around 30 minutes, so it’s a comfortable binge. The road trip provides a solid story structure as each episode focuses on the last stop. There’s an interesting cameo from Billie Eilish and former “Daily Show” writer X Mayo.
“Swarm” is not a perfect show, but it’s worth taking the trip for all seven episodes.