Watch out, internet. There’s a new web series in town, and if the pilot episode is a huge hint as to what’s to come, this little production out of Virginia could be – scratch that. Swords of Insurgency *will* be the next big thing. Combining the post-apocalyptic drudgery of America’s hit TV show The Walking Dead, fight choreography out of a Jackie Chan film, and intrigue straight out of a Shakespearean play or Game of Thrones set to a pulse-pounding score, Swords of Insurgency is poised to make its mark as a breakout, must-see web series.
Filmed on a $3000 budget and made to look worth at least 100 times that amount by director Michael Neal and cinematographer/editor Omar Juarez, Swords of Insurgency wastes no time at all dumping the viewer straight into what looks like hell on Earth with little hope of ever getting out. The pilot episode may last only 18 minutes, but Neal and Juarez make the most of it, using that precious time to immerse the viewer in a prison nightmare of brutality and misogyny, with those who have power exercising their will over those who don’t. However, as all stories like this must go, all it takes is one person – one spark – to ignite the fires of rebellion, and that comes in the form of a prisoner named Abigail (Rebecca Hausman).
We meet Abigail as she’s being dragged into the prison, thrown in a cell and beaten senseless, only later to have the smarmy Droll (Jason Kearney), son of the prison’s overlord Taneg (Erik Bernard Johnsen), sneering and taunting her like Bogs Diamond from The Shawshank Redemption, saying that she could have had anything she wanted if she’d only given into him. Soon enduring the horrors of prison life, including rape and torture, Abigail surprises us by orchestrating one of the greatest prison escapes ever put on screen, engaging her captors in ferocious hand-to-hand combat on her way out the door and into the abandoned wild outside the prison walls.
Notably, there are no guns used in this production, at least in this opening salvo. All of Swords of Insurgency‘s violence seems to be done with blades and martial arts, an interesting style choice on behalf of the filmmakers, who want this world to be brought back to its basics: no electricity and no guns, deferring instead to archaic forms of battle (brought to thrilling life by DC Stunt Coalition), which fits right in with the overarching theme of power and the greed for it. Swords of Insurgency is gut-instinct filmmaking at a top-notch level, giving us only what the story wants us to know precisely when we need to know. The pilot episode establishes Abigail and her fighting skills; it also gives us a game of politics involving Taneg and his prison warden, played by Mike McMullen, who lends a world-weary authenticity to these proceedings. McMullen’s subtle, pitch-perfect performance entreats us to keep an eye on him and his character, who looks to have a lot more working behind the scenes.
Also of note is the titular insurgency, alluded to by Taneg, Droll, and the warden, and glimpsed only in the final minutes. What are we to make of this world? Is this one locale so viciously ruled by Taneg that he’s got an undercurrent of people that dare to fight back? We’re only shown little of a what looks to be a bombed-out, desolate countryside ruled by either sadistic prison guards or roving packs of zombie-like scavengers. This pilot episode of Swords of Insurgency does exactly what introductory episodes should do – establish the hierarchy and setting, and whet the audience’s appetite for more. Mark my words: you’ll be hearing a lot about Swords of Insurgency in the months to come.