MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 2, 2020: SWALLOW

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motw logo 1-35Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ tense drama Swallow — about a repressed young wife who finds herself compelled to eat unusual and even dangerous things — gives new meaning to the phrase “eating your feelings.” Desperate to please her handsome husband, Richie (Austin Stowell), and his wealthy parents, Hunter (Haley Bennett) tries to create the perfect life in their designer-ready home. But things are far from perfect under the surface.
 
Richie claims to be devoted to his bride, but his behavior says otherwise: He’s patronizing and condescending, and Hunter never feels sure of her worth in his eyes (or his parents’). As her insecurity and doubt mount, she’s further thrown for a loop to discover that she’s pregnant. Instead of craving pickles and ice cream, Hunter can’t stop herself from eating marbles, push pins, and dirt. When her condition — called pica — lands her in the hospital and brings Richie and his parents’ wrath down upon her, she starts seeing a therapist, and unresolved issues from her past threaten to undo her completely.

Swallow isn’t an easy movie to watch. Hunter’s compulsions are off-putting at best and mortally dangerous at worst, and her self-destructive desperation to please Richie is tragic. This is a woman who has never dared to be her true self around the people who are supposed to love her the most — she works tirelessly to give them what she thinks they want, but it’s never right, or enough. Even when she’s clearly suffering, their response is to treat her like a mentally unstable child.

Bennett commits fully to the role, balancing Hunter’s fear and vulnerability with a streak of tenacity and daring that can’t quite be suppressed, no matter what Richie and his parents do. Her performance — combined with a moody score, stylish costumes, and vivid production design — makes Swallow as hard to ignore as the perfectly glassy, swirly marble that Hunter craves. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nikki Baughan: Combining a cool Hitchcock aesthetic with 70s-esque suburban paranoia and a modern narrative sensibility, Swallow is an intriguing, exciting feature debut from Carlo Mirabella-Davis. Anchored by an astonishing performance by Hayley Bennett as the softly-spoken, psychologically traumatised trophy wife of a arrogant rich kid, it’s a beautiful, devastating study of everyday female oppression. When she’s not rattling around her gorgeous New York home, Hunter (Bennett) is being routinely belittled or ignored by her husband’s family, who clearly think they are better than her. Her burgeoning pregnancy doesn’t make for any better treatment; they are more concerned about the child than her. As she swallows every veiled insight, every slight, with a small smile, she becomes overwhelmed with a desire to imbibe household objects; first a marble, then a pin, then a battery. This leads to psychological treatment, which unveils a distributing past. Such a story could easily become exploitative, but Mirabella-Davis strikes the perfect tone. Hunter is clearly not crazy, and our sympathies lie entirely with her. It is also her story, told through her eyes, and, even if most of us have never been compelled to eat the ornaments, we can easily understand the overwhelming pressure of daily persecution that drives her behaviour.

Loren King Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis and star Haley Bennett, who gives a stunningly modulated performance, have crafted a contemporary horror film laced with black humor and an empowerment message. Swallow is a rare, original feminist thriller whose mounting horrors gradually reveal that the hidden monster is the patriarchy. Read full review.

Marina Antunes Control. At some point in our lives, we’ve all felt some semblance of loss of control and while sometimes those “moments” feel more like eternities, we get over them, either on our or own or with the help of friends, family and sometimes with medical intervention. Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow explores one woman’s struggle with control. While outwardly living the perfect ideal life – beautiful home, rich and handsome husband – Hunter feels trapped. She’s built a facade for her husband and his family and with a baby on the way, panic sinks in. In a moment of desperation, she swallows a marble and soon, she’s eating everything from batteries to tacks. Though Mirabella-Davis plays the first half of Swallow like a horror movie complete with intense score from Nathan Halpern, the second half is a beautiful story of self-discovery and empowerment in which Hunter, played brilliantly by Haley Bennett, comes to terms with her past and sets forth on a new life. And that ending… perfection.

Leslie Combemale Swallow might be have a secondary title that goes something like “Agency, and What a Gal Will Do Just to Get a Little for Herself”. Psychological horror and domestic drama make creepy bedfellows in a movie that feels like Repulsion meets Diary of a Mad Housewife meets Stepford Wives in reverse. You might wonder why a male director would make such an ultimately feminist movie. It is inspired by writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s grandmother Edith Mirabella, a homemaker in the 50s who developed rituals of control, was placed in a mental institution by her husband, and subsequently given shock treatment and a lobotomy. He does right by his granny through the slow, tortuous devolution of lead character Hunter Conrad, as played Haley Bennett, who, going forward, might deserve at least half the roles offered to Florence Pugh. The film is a bold statement about the internalized struggle for agency many women find they can only articulate through self-destructive behavior.

Susan Wloszczyna: 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. Writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ haunting film 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. Read full review.

Jennifer Merin Harrowing, horrific and heartbreaking, Swallow is Carlo Mirabelle-Davis’ beautifully crafted and quite discomforting drama about a woman with pica, an uncommon compulsive disorder that entails the ingestion of indigestible objects, including dangerously sharp metal and plastic items and soil. Yes, it’s a real disorder. In Swallow, it’s Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett), a young and newly pregnant wife, who is afflicted. The compelling narrative observes Hunter’s stifling marital environment and delves deep into the psychological frame of mind that precipitates her self destructive pathological behavior. Haley Bennett’s performance is awesome. Truly triumphant!

Liz Whittemore Isolation, control, fear, wonder — these are all emotions surrounding pregnancy. It is one of life’s ultimate dichotomies. You can attempt to positively guide the health of your child but in reality, have very limited power over how your body reacts to making another human. There is enough to worry about without adding an eating disorder into the mix. Pica is one that is usually associated with pregnancy. It is an uncontrollable desire to consume things that are not conventional and of no nutritional value. In Swallow, naive trophy wife Hunter desperately tries to maintain some sense of personal order but in turn, only causes her restraints (both emotional and physical) to tighten. Therein lies the genius of Swallow. Pica is a metaphor in so many ways in this script. This film is about trauma. The coldness of sparse midcentury modern architecture set against the brightness of specific and important objects is simply stunning. The textures in Swallow are equally gorgeous and gag-worthy. Topped off by the performance from our leading lady Haley Bennett, who won the Best Actress award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival for this role, this is a visceral viewing experience that will either captivate or drive you away. If you can stomach Swallow, you will be rewarded.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Swallow is the kind of film you keep thinking about long after the credits roll. Haley Bennett gives an extraordinary performance as Hunter, a young affluent housewife whose unexpected pregnancy leads to a compulsive eating disorder called Pica (the swallowing of indigestible objects, including sharp and dangerous ones like push and safety pins and batteries). Writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis explores how Hunter’s seemingly picture-perfect life is actually stifling and unsatisfying thanks to her controlling husband’s (Austin Stowell) toxic masculinity. Bennett, whose Hunter looks and sounds like a cross between Michelle Williams and Marilyn Monroe, is magnificent as a woman who knows she’s supposed to be happy with a life of leisure, a handsome, rich husband and an Architectural Digest home, but who begins to take her own, however dangerous, control over her body in an obvious feminist metaphor for the myriad ways women don’t feel their bodies are really their own. David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel are equally as fabulous as Hunter’s overbearing in-laws. While not for easy viewing (particularly the medical procedures), Swallow is an original and thought-provoking film with award-worthy central performance.

Sheila Roberts Haley Bennet delivers a riveting, finely calibrated performance in Swallow, filmmaker Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s unsettling feminist thriller. She plays Hunter Conrad, a young, seemingly happy newlywed who discovers she’s pregnant then becomes obsessed by an urge to swallow inedible, deadly objects. Read full review.

Cate Marquis Unsettling to watch, the film takes a turn toward empowerment by its end. Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ script and direction, paired with Katelin Arizmendi’s lush photography and Bennett’s performance, craft a disturbing psychological thriller with a satisfying, unexpected denouement. Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Swallow

Directors: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Release Date: March 6. 2020

Running Time: 94 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Distribution Company: IFC Films

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).