Directed By Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring – Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O’Hare
The Plot – Disturbing psychological drama about Hunter (Bennett), a newly pregnant deeply unhappy housewife from working class family who starts feeling suffocated in her marriage to a man (Stowell) from rich family who cares more about their unborn baby than about her. Although she continues to keep up appearances, her defense mechanism becomes eating increasingly dangerous small objects ranging from marbles to batteries. Eventually, she starts visiting a therapist (Luna Valez) while her husband hires a strange man (Laith Nakli) from Syria as their maid to watch her at home. One thing eventually becomes clear; in order to tackle her current issues, Hunter must first face her own tragic past.
Rated R for adult language, some sexuality and disturbing behavior
– Shining examples. There’s a naturalistic quality to the atmosphere channeled, as well as the couple’s tense interactions that vividly paints a revealing picture for Hunter’s daily routine, and why her demeanor is the way she candidly portrays it. Monotony fills the room like a living, breathing character in each frame, better helping to articulate the complete lack of feeling or chemistry that omits between them. In addition to this, the way that Hunter’s in-laws look at or even convey a complete lack of interest towards Hunter’s past and quirky anecdotes are examples that better help us to understand her jaded disposition, which until now has left her rendered as this Stepford wife of sorts, whose only mission seems to be satisfying those surrounding her. It’s a personal touch towards its characters and tone that makes this situation unique, and certainly allows you to empathize with Hunter, regardless of the sometimes selfish or maniacal decisions that her compulsion puts her through.
– Exceptionally rounded cast. This is a career-defining turn for Bennett, who up until now has skated by with supporting roles that often cater to the bigger stars surrounding her. As Hunter, we feel the weight and loneliness of a character whose identity is being molded through the way other people view her, and it’s Bennett’s transformation when confronting such a mounting adversary that peels back like an onion, embracing all of the anger and frustration that has been suppressed through years of mental anguish. In addition to Haley, the work of Austin Stowell, as the antagonist husband of sorts, was also properly channeled, and never meandered in a way that put his deliveries over the top. Similar to Hunter, there’s a nagging edge that begs to be let out by the imperfections that peak at every corner through his otherwise perfect existence, and while we don’t relate to what his character deems important, we understand and interpret what is coming from a mile away, a sign of fully fleshed out characterization.
– Poignant shot compositions. Adding to the atmospheric tension harvested by a riveting lead ensemble, the overall cinematography and variety of camera angles by Katelin Arizmendi, the same woman tasked with illustrating this year’s epic “Dune”, supplants isolation in all of its most evident examples. For one, it’s the way she often separates the married couple in frame, using window sills or walls to distance them, in order to convey how mentally and spiritually apart they are despite physical distance stating otherwise. This feeds into Hunter’s unfurling mentality, but beyond that alludes to the lack of perfect existence in a home as rich and stylistically beautiful as this ones primary setting. Speaking of beautiful, the color coordination and supporting textures experiment with a form of vibrancy in Hunter’s swallowing objects that never alienates nor challenges the moody atmosphere the exist from within, luminating beautifully against the soft cinematography persisting within. They stand out in a way that immerses us within her shoes, and allows us to see the objects radiate in the same way she does for delicious pleasure.
– Meaningful minutes. Even with a second half direction that I wasn’t entirely pleased with, I can say that each scene in the film feels pivotal towards understanding this abstract character that goes far beyond a disease. In that regard, nothing in the film feels overly heavy with its pacing, nor entirely unnecessary with where the film eventually ends up. It’s 90 minutes of swift storytelling that often dares you to look away, but doesn’t afford you the liberty because everything that you’re seeing on-screen is bizarre and unlike anything playing currently in mainstream cinema. Each piece allows this bigger picture to present itself, and proves no shortage of depth for the story’s script with no shortage of shock to satisfy.
– Stirring sound. The mixing and sound editing in this film is nothing short of superb, acting as the horrific illustration of what’s taking place inside of our central protagonist. Because it’s deep down in her body, we can’t see the torture being impacted by this curse, but we hear every weight to the gums, every gag from its girth, and every sting by the swallow of its literal torture. It translates to us the audience in a way that pushes us to swallow in echoing what transpires on-screen, and gives us access where it’s needed to appall us. In addition to this, the faint chimes somewhere off in the distance when Hunter desires start to take over, is also a brilliant one, and establishes her pre-conceived gears that start grinding before the inhalation has actually taken place.
– Responsible. The compulsion to swallow inedible objects is known as “Pica” in real life, and even has many tiers within it towards particular addictions. As for this film, it combines all of those tiers, but more importantly depicts the disease in a way that doesn’t offer judgment because of such. Instead, the film chooses to educate the viewer, often relating it to a form of past mental trauma that persists from within the captor, as well as a desire to feel something real in ones monotonous life. This film not only colorfully illustrates the desires within Pica, but also pushed me to seeking more information after the film was over, giving it a lasting effect even hours after I concluded it.
– Perfect title. What I love about the simplicity exerted in the one word title “Swallow”, is that it’s every bit ambiguous as it is misleading toward audiences perceiving this in one way, when in reality it’s completely the opposite. I would declare this a horror film, but not one that follows the conventional methods and direction that a bodily horror film exerts. Instead, “Swallow” processes itself as a psychological slow-burner that takes meaning in its one word, and distorts it in a way that gives it a double meaning when measured through the many dynamics in Hunter’s life that have resulted in her confinement. If done right, a title and trailer can satisfy with the abstraction of their gimmick, and do so while defining the word in different terms by the film’s conclusion, a perk this film garners with devilish ferocity.
– Clever editing. It doesn’t happen so much that it becomes a tiresome gimmick within the narrative, but the transitioning between scenes of gross-out ingestion are met with a cut that brings forth something similarly textured in the following scene. For instance, one scene ending with Hunter on the toilet is followed by a scene where pudding is dished out on a plate. It’s a bit childish with its visual incorporation, but simultaneously clever with how it paints the picture for what’s heard without actually showing us such nastiness. It does this three times throughout the film, and each time elicits an entirely opposite reaction and gag, that proves the film isn’t above including some humor to its shocking surrealism.
– Lunacy of objects. As already stated in my positives, Pica is very much a disease that exists in the real world, but sometimes the film takes a bit too much liberty in depicting the objects that Hunter is able to swallow. I won’t spoil it for you the audience, but two things in particular shown during a musical montage sequence would’ve never fit down her esophogus, and if they somehow did, there’s no way she would escape hospitalization or even death. It montages them because it knows how ridiculous it would be to depict these things, and only momentarily shows them to articulate her progress when moving through bigger things. It’s the one moment that feels fictional in an otherwise unabashedly honest depiction, and feels almost comical because of what it tries to sell to us.
– A swift pivot. For my money, this film tries a bit too hard in its final act to not only explain where Hunter’s compulsion comes from, but also to assure audiences that her predicament is going to be alright. As to where the first half of the film takes place in this house with no shortage of marital or even humane issues, the second half evolves towards Hunter’s past, which took a bit too much away from the focus of the satisfying film in the foreground. This is becoming an ensuing issue with contemporary independent cinema here in America, refusing to challenge and even anger audiences in a way for its necessary ambiguity needed with a topic so complex, and often tries to reach for too much when simplicity would’ve better sold it. The ending is a bit too neatly tied together for me, and similar to other films I’ve recently watched, leaves more to be desire in the eventual confrontation.
My Grade: 8/10 of B+