A desperate housewife fights for control over her body

While not solely about dealing with isolation and loneliness, Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow arrived on VOD to draw some awkward comparisons just as many of us have blocked off the outside world. But where we have become paranoid of interacting with almost any foreign object we touch, Hunter’s (Haley Bennett) psychological disorder compels her to do the opposite. She has developed an appetite for eating non-food items such as batteries, nails and figurines, turning mental duress into physical self-harm.

There isn’t a long list films to reference when talking about eating disorders and Swallow may be the first to put such a focus onto one as obscure as Pica. Bennett’s performance knits together a compelling character study in the film’s first half with the arrival of a plot that fits a little too neatly into place in the second. While nothing juts obtrusively out of place, the story’s conclusion ties itself up rather easily in a short space of time, bringing about an ending that perhaps isn’t fully earned.

Bennett ensures it remains watchable throughout, giving us a portrait of a woman no longer able to partition off her life traumas. Married to rich, spoilt businessman Richie (Austin Stowell) and living in a plush, modern house with an exclusive riverside view Hunter appears to have it all. She plays the dutiful housewife – putting dinner on the table and looking picture perfect when her husband returns from work – but he’s more interested in his own world then hers. The only time she goes out is to visit her mother-in-law, Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel), who lives next door. But she sees Hunter as a nothing girl who struck it lucky marrying into a rich family and tells her daughter-in-law to block out her unhappiness and “fake it ‘til you make it.”

Even after falling pregnant Hunter can’t stop gulping down the inanimate objects (pregnancy can be a common cause of the disorder) that give her so much solace. Watching each item being consumed is a tough ask and it’s exactly what Mirabella-Davis is aiming for, inflicting painful-looking moments of body horror onto the viewer. Pushing them down her throat seems to be the only control she has over her life, beyond her physical ability to ably roam around her home. The retro-style décor reflects just how frozen in time Hunter has become and how detached she feels not only from the world, but from her own self.

There’s a moral complexity to Mirabella-Davis’ film that is suggested at rather than explored, which is unfortunate, as deeper down in the weeds there is a lot more to untangle. Whether it’s the mental health, body ownership, abortion or rape issues that feed into the narrative (the latter involving a brief but emotional scene with Denis O’Hare) they largely feel compressed by some of the thriller elements. But there’s much to admire about Swallow and it makes for an impressive feminist thriller that puts a spotlight on a subject rarely given the time of day.

Swallow is available to rent on VOD now.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

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