With its echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and a bewitching leading lady who checks off many of the qualifications of being a Hitchcock blonde, Swallow is a somewhat uneasy watch that tip-toes close to a body-horror thriller. But writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis has more on his mind than just exploiting a compulsive disorder known as Pica, one that has caused pregnant women to ingest everyday objects such as dirt, paper and more dangerous objects such as glass.
Instead, Swallow is more about the toxicity of successful men as well as how the rich feel empowered to control someone because they feel should be grateful to them. As played with great purpose and deep emotion by Haley Bennett, Hunter barely has a purpose in life other than to be arm candy to her vapid husband and told what to do with her pushy in-laws who brought the couple their gorgeous Barbie Dream House in the country. It becomes her prison of sorts, considering her life is ruled by the desires of others.
As a result, her yearning to eat a tack or gobble a small battery is partly about being in control without being manipulated by others. We sense husband Richie (Austin Stowell, not quite John Cassvettes-class but jerky enough) chose to marry her because she is arm candy that he can show off to the lads at work and she complements his lifestyle choices like a rug or curtains.
The film builds to a climax that involves one of my favorite character actors Denis O’Hare as Hunter confronts her past before she can embrace her own future. But the one scene that most disturbed me is when Hunter starts to try to tell an anecdote about her past at a restaurant and her in-laws simply change the subject as if she weren’t there. Swallow doesn’t always go down smoothly but it does expose how marriage can be a trap, family skeletons continue to rattle and freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.