Current Issue #488

Film Review:

Less a horror movie and more a fairly disturbing psychodrama, Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ feature début is built upon an impressively discomforting performance by Haley Bennett. 

Trying for a little of the emotional chilliness of Stanley Kubrick, some David Cronenberg-style bodies-in-revolt edges and a glimmer of Todd Haynes’ Safe (in which Julianne Moore discovers she’s allergic to everything), this is a mostly powerful and unsettling tale that leads to some predictable late revelations and an altogether too easy and unsatisfying finale. And yet, when it hurts, it really, really hurts.

Hunter Conrad (Bennett) has married into a rich family, and although she and husband Richie (Austin Stowell) initially seem happy together, there’s a growing unease here, as she spends her days alone and isolated in a modernist mansion somewhere in upstate New York. Long, quiet scenes often lit with a pink, womb-like hue suggest what’s to come, and yet thankfully this isn’t another tired, misogyny-tinged horrors-of-pregnancy story, as director Mirabella-Davis instead opts for themes of repressed trauma and body dysmorphia.

As the title suggests, Hunter begins to swallow a series of objects, beginning with a not necessarily harmful marble (which she rattles jarringly against her teeth) but proceeding to sharper and more dangerous items in scenes that should have you squirming as you imagine your own soft, fragile intestines pierced by those scary, pointy edges. When Hunter becomes pregnant, her secret swallowing rituals become known to Richie and his family, and no one understands that, like cutters and other self-harmers, this is all about control, no matter how risky it is.

Hunter has never felt totally in possession of her own body and she’s treated as if a mere object herself, and when her secrets start to come out those around her think she’s a child, a fool and a freak, with Bennett allowing us to see how desperately she needs to talk about her pain. And yet no one wants to listen.

Unfortunately, this tense, even distressing build-up is slightly undone by a few final scenes that feel somewhat forced and obvious, with our protagonist growing self-aware and quite literally facing her fears.

And yet, until that slightly disappointing final act or so, this is certainly a movie with, ahem, guts.

Reviewer Rating

Swallow (MA) is now streaming on Stan

DM Bradley

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