Swallow is one of those quiet films that creep up on you with its agenda. Final Girls Berlin Film Festival is showing this unique and interesting psychological horror film on February 8th, 2020. Swallow had its premiere at 2019’s Tribecca Film Festival and will finally get a run in select theatres plus digital and VOD to roll out from March 8th.
The film follows Hunter, a beautiful and quietly spoken woman. She is married and becomes part of a wealthy and dominant family. Whisked away into a secluded and ostracizing life she becomes pregnant right on queue. Her husband is the type of man any woman would look at and be envious of on the arms of such a perfect looking picture. Together they have the perfect house, the perfect friends and perfectly supportive and doting parents. Hunter is the only exception to the rule in all of this. Her parents aren’t perfect nor doting. Her backstory isn’t filled with high-quality education and luxurious opportunity. With structure, routine and the gift of being able to take care of all she is bestowed, Hunter has it all.
ESCAPE FROM A CRAZY OLD LADY: And watch Greta. It’s good.
If you’ve never heard of the disorder, Pica, this film will teach you all about it. Here the disorder is initially presented as a form of comfort for Hunter. A means for her to challenge herself in a life that has quickly staled beyond repair.
Some may not relate to much of the film’s narrative. How can anyone relate to eating small, sharp and dangerous things? But it would be difficult to not find some form of familiarity in at least one interaction used in Swallow. Perhaps your inlaws are passive-aggressive in suggesting ways for you to be a better partner. Maybe being left to your own devices isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Suddenly you found yourself drowning in the unimportance of it all. Perhaps life seemed less interesting to others in comparison to their demanding nine-to-five. Whatever it is you may have experienced as you travel through life that made you feel less in control, some aspect of that is included here. And there is a lot to take in.
More importantly, if you’re thinking of avoiding this film out of fear you’ll see gore and gruesome money shots, don’t be. If you think this is a film where peculiar items are being forced down a beautiful woman’s throat, you’ve come to the wrong movie.
Instead of gratuitous intentions, it’s director Carlo Mirabella-Davis chooses to treat this addiction in a similar fashion to how serial killers are described. From time to time we are granted the privilege of seeing her display of sharp and dangerous things. Hunter collects trophies. In fact, the sheer volume included in her displays will come as a surprise given her outward calm facade. We are also shown a single moment where Hunters sits in bed reading a book. She’s reading a book her mother in law give her while defining what her new husband likes. As she quietly reads, she eats the pages instead of turning them.
Eventually, Hunter’s new habit is revealed. She is hospitalized and many of the items inside her body need to be surgically removed. Her husband and inlaws reward her bad behaviour with a minder. Subsequently she finds she has less control over her circumstances than ever.
The dialogue and structure are so skillful it slowly creates a form of claustrophobia. Despite the big house, the beautiful clothes, Hunter is totally alone and ostracized. Her addiction becomes her only form of freedom and also proves to be a risk to her life.
Haley Bennett’s performance is amazing. Her ability to grant us with pivotal narrative detail with the smallest gestures is a thing of beauty. Instead of seeming weak and vulnerable, she’s always going through a kind of metamorphosis. Changes that slowly gain her power back instead of taking it away.
The colors used over the course of the film feel intentional. There is a red window, the color blue is both mentioned and seen on numerous occasions. These small details stand out because everything else is sterile and beige. Many aspects of the composition of the film are direct and intentional. At the same time, the narrative flows in an easy-direction. It remains constantly pointed at Hunter while she struggles against a silent abuse of power. There is clear and dreadful chaos within the structured formality of everything else.
Swallow is a psychological horror drama. It’s also a directorial debut for Carlo Mirabella-Davis and is entirely memorable. Boundaries are pushed and nothing seems to be off-limits. It tackles all kinds of difficult subject matters such as abortion and rape both of which rear their head towards the final act.
A film for lovers of dark and serious tones executed with a steady hand.
I give Swallow
4.5 what are you eating right now? out of 5