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Review: Swallow (2020)

Swallow (2020)

Directed by: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Premise: A newly pregnant housewife (Haley Bennett) compulsively swallows inedible objects like marbles and batteries. While confronting her addiction, the woman recognizes her dissatisfaction with her life and unresolved childhood traumas.

What Works: Swallow is a stylized piece about a timid woman asserting control over her life. Much of the movie takes place in the posh home of Hunter, a woman whose life is managed by her husband and his family. Hunter has assumed the role of doting housewife and her daily routine consists of cleaning and decorating the house and cooking dinner for her husband. When she becomes pregnant, Hunter begins impulsively swallowing inedible objects, some of them dangerous. What the filmmakers do so well in Swallow is tell a story about psychological issues but without spelling those issues out for us. There’s a lot to unpack in this story and the filmmakers leave the viewer enough space to delve into the social and psychological themes. Swallow has impressive production design. The filmmakers use color in striking ways and pair certain colors with themes and subplots. Hunter’s home is so clean and sterile that it feels less like a domicile and more like an exhibit or an office space. This contrasts with some of the later settings of the movie which have a more recognizably lived-in look. Swallow has a visceral feel especially as Hunter ingests objects. The filmmakers contrast the sterile and stylized settings with the organic qualities of Hunter’s predilection. The essential element of Swallow is Haley Bennett’s performance as Hunter. Bennett’s approach to the role is perfectly suited to the material and to the filmmaker’s approach. This is a woman wrestling with volatile internal conflicts and that interior struggle percolates through Bennett’s performance. She sells Hunter’s compulsion but also the pain and physical trauma involved in it. There’s also a notable supporting performance by Laith Nakli as a live-in nurse charged with observing Hunter in her husband’s absence. The relationship between Hunter and the nurse is subtle but there is a discernable arc in their scenes together as he comes to realize that what’s wrong with Hunter is at least partly due to the home environment. Nakli visualizes that compassion in a way that is consistent with the staid style of the movie.

What Doesn’t: Swallow is about an addiction borne of suppressed childhood trauma combined with contemporary stress. The solution to Hunter’s problem is a little too simplistic. Upon confronting the sources of her anxieties, Hunter is depicted as immediately emancipated from her disorder. This is not entirely credible but it works well enough for the purposes of drama. 

DVD extras: Trailer.

Bottom Line: Swallow is an impressive story of a woman coming to terms with her life. Every element of the picture—the performances, the writing, the design and the cinematography–are in sync and produce a movie that offers a lot to digest once it’s over.

Episode: #827 (November 15, 2020)