Film Review: ‘Swallow’ is a provocative mouthful
A story about a pregnant housewife who starts compulsively eating inedible objects sounds like a gruesome, horrific film. Fortunately, Swallow diverts away from body horror and excessive, unwatchable gore, opting instead to focus on its lead character’s changing mental state and rebuilt confidence. Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s first non-documentary feature, and standalone debut, explores one woman’s fight to control her life, in the form of pica, the psychological disorder associated with the aforementioned non-nutritional acts. The result of this exploration strikes a much more resounding and gentler tone than the logline might suggest.
Following Hunter (Haley Bennett), a newly-pregnant housewife of the rich and often despicable Richie (Austin Stowell), Swallow looks at how an isolated individual, one forced to stay inside as her husband goes off to work each day. It trends towards old and now-archaic principles of the patriarchy, but slowly gives Hunter a chance to rebel, through her eating of (first) a marble and then other objects to follow.
Beginning with a calligraphic, gorgeous title sequence, Mirabella-Davis’s slight-horror, heavy-drama features a collection of incredible visuals and striking production and costume design. The colors remain vibrant and noticeable throughout the film, as Hunter wears monochromatic outfit after outfit on her days stuck at home. She’s being used by everyone around her, from her husband to her in-laws, even from Richie’s coworker who asks for a hug.
After eating ice at dinner followed by a marble that goes down smoother than she thought, Hunter begins eating a plethora of objects, including a tack, rings, and other knick-knacks found around the house. It’s her chance to control her everyday life. During an ultrasound, she experiences a serious amount of pain, causing a hospital visit and the extraction of all of the little pieces of houseware she’s eaten thus far, at least the ones that weren’t able to pass through her naturally. In response, Richie and his in-laws hire an in-house helper, Luay (Laith Nakli), to keep an eye on her at all times. She loses her freedom, her privacy, and her seemingly small amount of control instantly and continuously through the film.
Haley Bennett’s performance is the biggest takeaway from the film, though, despite Mirabella-Davis’s careful direction and largely strong script. Bennett portrays a woman desperate for an ounce of control in wordless, lengthy emotional scenes. Her face becomes a conduit of her entire emotional state of being, with the smallest twitches, winces, and fidgets having power. Bennett gives the type of performance that (hopefully) will give you many more chances to showcase her talent for drama and horror, along with her capacity to carry a film void of dialogue for long stretches of time.
Though the third act of the film falters, Swallow remains dedicated to Hunter’s story, never ceasing to make her the center of attention. It’s a feminist horror film at its core, one that is concerned with those in the world that lack control and confidence. Mirabella-Davis’s film gives him a smart and solid calling card to begin his feature fiction career as well. Swallow ends up becoming a film that’s more interesting than affecting, a drama that gives light at the end of the tunnel, and respite in the midst of constant degradation and isolation. It serves as a chance for audiences to witness a powerful showcase by Haley Bennett, and a closer look at how we attempt to survive circumstances outside of our control. In times like these, Swallow has gone from a great film to a necessary one.
Swallow is an IFC Films release and is currently available On Demand.