Swallow: This quarantine nightmare requires a strong stomach

Review: Haley Bennett is pitch-perfect as a bored wife with an extreme eating disorder

Film Title: Swallow

Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Starring: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, Denis O'Hare, Laith Nakli

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 95 min

Fri, Mar 20, 2020, 05:00

   

Offering a disconcerting new twist on the Hitchcock blonde, the debut feature from writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis is a cool, contemporary takedown of domestic dissatisfaction. Haley Bennett, who has previously impressed in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom and Joe Dante’s The Hole, rightly took home the Best Actress award from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival for her pitch-perfect turn as a pregnant wife who develops an extreme eating disorder. 

Swallow gamely holds its nerve and goes the full Douglas Sirk with its melodramatic hausfrau arrangements. Dressed in full swing skirt and blouses that could have been lifted from Jane Wyman’s trousseau, Hunter (Bennett) reminds herself in her girlish, dreamy voice just how lucky she is, as she sits down with her unappreciative, wealthy husband Richie (Stowell) in their beautifully appointed, completely isolating modernist home overlooking the Hudson river. 

Her mother-in-law (Marvel) is sure to remind her of exactly the same thing: “Lucky break, you meeting my son.” Marvel goes on to provide a masterclass in internalised misogyny “You would look so pretty with long hair – you should grow it out. Richie likes his girls with long, beautiful hair,” she coos. Her father-in-law (Rasche) looks at Hunter as if she’s an alien. 

Friendless and bored, one night at dinner Hunter becomes fascinated by the ice in her glass as it cracks and pops. She eats a cube, a small transgression that attracts no attention. Soon after, while cleaning house, she finds a marble, a glistening item that seems to sound out a siren’s call. She swallows it, only to retrieve it upon, well, re-entry.

Swallow - official trailer

It becomes clear that her appetite for knick-knacks is something more complicated than a means of rebellion

She has an entire collection of small, sacred objects on her dresser by the time her pica is discovered during a pregnancy scan. 

When her husband “can’t even”, the in-laws take charge by sending a gruff live-in nurse to watch Hunter at all times. She sees a psychiatrist and talks about her normal, loving background until it becomes clear that her appetite for knick-knacks is something more complicated than a means of rebellion against a stifling existence. Enter Denis O’Hare for an unforgettable exchange. 

As with the objects that appeal to Hunter, there’s a magical aura around Swallow. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi’s careful framing and use of colour is delicately poised between Vertigo and Todd Haynes’s Safe, creating this unfettered fantasy space that allows the film to bridge fairy-tale tropes and contemporary critiques of toxic environments.

The Cronenbergian premise plays out as a psychological thriller rather than body horror, but squeamish viewers should note: someone did faint at the Tribeca premiere and it is, at heart, the ultimate quarantine nightmare. 

Opens on March 20th on iTunes/Amazon Prime