Audiences who watch Swan Song may begin to consider a logical question: is this a new episode of Black Mirror? The moral quandaries of the near-future are eloquently explored in writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s film, but the similarities to Charlie Brooker’s ironic dystopia can’t be denied.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is dying, although he’s kept this information from his pregnant wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris), and their eight-year-old son, Cory (Dax Rey). Cameron has been working on a contingency plan of sorts: to replace himself with a clone who has been implanted with his memories. Under the direction of Dr Scott (Glenn Close), the clone will have his memory altered so that he doesn’t in fact know he’s a clone, allowing him to seamlessly take Cameron’s place.
On paper, the premise sounds vaguely chilling, but the execution is an exercise in semi-melancholic restraint. Despite the futuristic sheen to everything, this is a very human story. There’s no Cameron versus Cameron’s clone in a Battle Royale. It’s a commendable approach, but Swan Song occasionally feels too muted – especially given the emotional stakes involved. It’s impeccably cast and performed, anchored by a composed and meditative performance by Mahershala Ali. And if a film calls for a calm, authoritative presence, it’s hard to beat Glenn Close.
The unspecified near-future setting looks stylish, with plausible, discreet technology and a distinctive lack of clutter (the future appears to have been Marie Kondo’d to within an inch of its life). Much like Ex Machina, it seems like vast technological leaps forward are accomplished in prize-winning, architecturally minimalist dwellings in the middle of nowhere, allowing nature to loom dramatically in panoramic windows.
Cleary has delivered a confident piece of work, but there’s the nagging sense that the filmmaker thought his work was more thought-provoking than it actually is. The mind isn’t quite boggled, however it’s sufficiently prodded.
Swan Song is released on Apple TV+ on 17th December 2021.
Watch the trailer for Swan Song here: