Swallow Haley Bennett review 2

Year: 2020
Director(s): Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Writer(s): Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Region of Origin: USA, France
Rating: R
Color, 94 mins

Synopsis: Hunter, a newly pregnant housewife, finds herself increasingly compelled to consume dangerous objects. (Source)

Just like the insidious relationship that anchors it, Swallow is not the type of film you expect it to be. Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis has created something that’s unpredictable and genreless. It focuses on a mundane, dead end marriage and the woman trapped within it, struggling to find her own safe and happy place. The results are a bit perverse and unsettling but always gripping. Mirabella-Davis’ angular and almost sterile visual poetry compliments Haley Bennett’s go-for-broke vulnerability. Despite the darkness at its core, this psychological thriller is cathartic, engaging and empowering, daring to confront its ideas of isolation and trauma with unexpected grace.

From the outside, Richie (Austin Stowell) and his wife Hunter (Haley Bennett) have the perfect marriage. They’re privileged newlyweds who have been spoiled by Richie’s rich corporate parents – and he’s been quickly climbing the same ladder to wealth and promise. At the story’s start, Richie’s parents have even bought the young couple a new house, replete with an ocean view. But deeper into this perfect portrait, is a rotten core. Pregnant and feeling like her voice matters less everyday, Hunter is descending into a private hell. She has no one to talk to, and her home feels like a gilded cage. Unable to escape, she forces herself to view her surroundings in a new light. This manifests through pica – an addiction to swallowing objects around her house. It begins small – with a marble – but quickly escalates into more dangerous objects. As her secret gets harder to contain and more lethal for her health, it forces her to confront deep truths about herself and who she’s become. 

The strength of Mirabella-Davis’ film, is the focused restraint at which he presents his story and Hunter’s inner turmoil. This is a film in which what is most important always lies beneath the surface, or between each spoken word. In that respect, the film relies heavily on a keen ability to manifest Hunter’s invisible torment into physical pain. What could’ve been salacious or played for laughs or shock, is surprisingly grounded and emotional. As Hunter’s methods grow more desperate, the film’s perspective snakes to keep us pinned in her ups and downs. From start to finish, Mirabella-Davis treads a fine line between farce and psychological resonance. He roots Hunter’s gag-inducing extremes to the fatal dullness and suppression of her domesticity. Saying too much would diminish the film’s stunning conclusion, but it digs deep and travels to a place that is complicated and powerfully empathetic.  

Swallow Haley Bennett review 3

In terms of performances, there’s one that makes the film unmissable. Haley Bennett has created a heroine who makes the film’s disparate parts cohere. Through Bennett, Hunter is relatable, tethering her extraordinary ordeal to universal feelings that are easy to understand. The story’s ideas of taking back agency, control and self-destruction all exist at once within Bennett. With physicality at the fore, she makes understand what it’s like to feel trapped in Hunter’s body. Hers is a performance that’s at once impossible to look away from and definitely not one we can easily forget.

Swallow isn’t quite anything else. Mirabella-Davis digs into subject matter that isn’t easy to tackle, but goes straight for ideas and perspectives that are necessary. I can’t say I’ve seen the ideas here presented in this way. Mirabella-Davis explores the idea of being invisible, not being heard especially in terms of being a woman and what’s societally expected and accepted. That the film is able to capture such a deep premise, wrap it within a fantastic story and bring it all home in a way that we absolutely cannot see coming, is a testament to how this film avoids going for what’s easy. In the best way, it’s a film that doesn’t end once the credits roll. It goes straight for the jugular with a final shot that expands its reach and demands that we do the same.