Swallow (2019)

Haley Bennett’s hypnotic performance as a pregnant woman with a new compulsion for eating hard and sharp objects gives this polished feature debut a nuanced edge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Carlo Mirabella-Davis
2019 | USA | Drama/Thriller | 94 mins | 2.39:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for language, some sexuality and disturbing behavior

Cast: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O’Hare
Plot: Hunter, a newly pregnant housewife, finds herself increasingly compelled to consume dangerous objects. As her husband and his family tighten their control over her life, she must confront the dark secret behind her new obsession.
Awards: Won Best Actress (Tribeca)
International Sales: Charades (SG: Shaw)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Shaw KinoLounge
Spoilers: No

Watch on Shaw KinoLounge (Singapore only): https://kinolounge.shaw.sg/

A winner of Best Actress for Haley Bennett at the Tribeca Film Festival, and deservedly so, as Swallow rides on her hypnotic performance as a pregnant woman with a new compulsion for eating and sharp objects, an extreme variation of the condition called ‘pica’ in which people eat non-food items. 

With the ability to capture the emotional tenor of her character’s confusion over her own psychological condition, Bennett elevates Swallow into more than just a polished debut feature outing by Carlo Mirabella-Davis. 

She is the embodiment of an oppressed working-class woman locked in a glass display of a museum, as Mirabella-Davis metaphorically put it in a Q&A over Zoom. 

In fact, the film’s sleek, modernist production design, particularly the luxurious ‘glass’ mansion that she stays in with her wealthy husband, reminds vividly of that house in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019), where class division was rendered explicitly. 

But while classism is a subtheme, Swallow’s central preoccupation is on women’s conformity to the expectations of a patriarchal society, while at the same time, suggesting an emancipatory way forward. 

All of these are dealt with in the guise of a ‘body horror’ type film, which will interest viewers who are into the subgenre, though for better or worse, Mirabella-Davis doesn’t quite push those genre-related boundaries to its extreme even if certain scenes do unsettle. 

Swallow will likely not end up being a cult film in the way, say, a film like Raw (2016) might claim to be.  But that also means that it is more realistic, eschewing sensationalism for a more grounded affair. 

Grade: B



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