Hunter (Haley Bennett) has the perfect life. She’s the perfect wife and mother-to-be for Richie (Austin Stowell), and live in an affluent and spacious home his father just recently bought them. Despite her short hair among any of the little nitpicky items of import to Richie’s enablist and priviliged parents, she’s the exception. She’s mild-mannered, well kept and subservient, and basically just a fixture in the room, uneager to step on any toes or speak her mind.
Her days are loaded with nothing but free time. Plenty, even. She spends most of it with some housekeeping and homemaking, cooking, some television, mobile gaming, and to say the least, the occassional snack. The latter is something of a much more grave nature, as she inexplicably can’t seem to contain her craving for non-nourishable objects, eating nearly anything and everything bite-sized with compulsion, from marbles to thumbtacks, batteries and paper.
Little do Richie and his folks know or fully understand the true nature of Hunter’s sudden habit or the quiet torment that exists in its shadow. Eventually, a trip to the emergency room is all they need to find out what’s happening with Hunter, and it’s ultimately one of the first and biggest tests of her marriage. Nonetheless, this examination has already taken a fatalist turn as the façade that was once her perfect, idyllic life is upended, exposing much more to Hunter than she ever thought was possible.
Using psychosis to cast a striking spotlight on patriarchy for an introspective story of forgiveness and true freedom, Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow explores a number of things relative to Hunter as she goes through the motions of her suffering, taking a journey that stifles her into obedience until she can’t run from herself anymore. It’s at that point where the crux of our story fully blooms well into the third act.
The film’s soundtrack and use of color employ an almost playful nature amid the foreshadowing at times. Select character exchanges help add to the cocktail of Hunter’s emotions as they brew and build-up, from acceptance to betrayal and unnerving vulnerability. She’s a woman trying to find power and compensating the only way she knows how, despite the fact that it’s slowly killing her, and the eventual involvement of her family, despite any and all well meaning, is not helping.
More to the point, it feels quite intrusive. On its face, her marriage seems almost as promising as the notion that she’s happy and not just faking it, although her facial expressions tell the audience a much different story. The only real solace she gets at times is from her newly appointed living assistant, Luay (Laith Nakli), a close cohort of the family who readily abides by their wishes, but still manages to understand the desire for a way out.
Bennett’s performance here is a stunning cinematic experience, exuding complexity and morbidity, and an assertive authority that her character knows it can execute, and struggles to nearly every step of the way. That endeavor starts on a quirky and lighter note at the top of the film before things take a grisly turn going forward. The moment is hugely deserved and rewarding, and motivates you to watch as the bigger picture reveals itself at every emotive and chilling turn.
More centrally, it’s what makes Swallow such a delightful, often gripping feminist gut-punch that underscores the importance of letting go and knowing your worth. It’s a fierce and powerful tale told with poetic execution, and a compelling feature debut from Mirabella-Davis that is perfect for moviegoing nourishment.
Swallow opens in the U.S. on March 6, 2020 from IFC Films.