Newly pregnant housewife, Hunter, putters around the house while her workaholic husband enjoys the fruits of success and friendship with colleagues. When she’s not cleaning the house or preparing a meal for herself, Hunter stares into the oblivion of her isolating environment. The country girl who really had nothing to her name has fortunately found an opportunity to never be worried about financial insecurities and with every material thing a person could want in their right at her fingertips. All Hunter has to sacrifice is her control. Feeling lonely, powerless, and trapped, Hunter discovers swallowing inedible, dangerous objects gives her great joy and something she can control. As she goes deeper into this obsession and her perfect world begins to crumble, she’s confronted with reexamining her dark past that stems her unusual eating habit.
Sometimes it’s our strange quirks, our self-destruction behaviors, and our subconscious need to be noticed, or in control, or out of the pockets of others that can deliver horrid outcomes that, ironically enough, can be also our incognito liberator. As such displayed in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ written and directed introductory feature film, a blend of family melodrama and interior body horror, with “Swallow.” The 2019 released psychological thriller is difficult to digest, literally, as the protagonist struggles coping with external control issues in a seemingly perfect life, a life that has never quite felt like her own, while also encouraging an alarming new physiological appetite for what is known in the eating disorder circles as Pica. Set in upstate New York, shot around the idyllic Hudson Valley area, “Swallow” is produced by the award-winning “Nomadland’s” Mollye Asher and “Black Box’s” Mynette Louie, who have a long history in investing into bold and interesting emotional depth tales, and is a production of the France based companies, Charades and Logical Pictures.
Undertaking the daunting task of Pica emulating is Haley Bennett. “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” and “Hardcore Henry” actress tethers a line to the core basis of her character Hunter who has to gradually chip away portions of her blank exterior of a person subconsciously suffering from similar symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. Hunter very much believes in the social saturation of wifely duties at an attempt to please her bread-winning husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell, “Colossal”), constantly gathering reassurances and happiness from him. I also like the play on words with the husband name Ritchie that speaks to his haughty behavior. Bennett, in great detail, captures Hunter’s disfigured, uncertain happiness and wholehearted attempts to join the ranks of a proud housewife, an area mirrored by silent authority from her mother-in-law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, “All the Little Things We Kill”). As soon as Hunter swallows that very first foreign object, Bennett derives true delight from the bizarre action. From then on, blistering is away is being a slave to Ritchie’s wealthy ties as that little object, that spherical inkling of hope, gets the marble rolling down the gullet of taking back what’s hers, her life. Bennett and Stowell finesse their characters’ relationship with a teetertotter of genuine sympathy and ingenuine gratification in what’s a blurry line of compassion or a total fake façade for the allusion of appearances. The weakest character, for me, is Luay, the Syrian expat who fled the turmoil of homeland war and has become something of a caretaker to Hunter. Played by Laith Nakli, Luay’s sympathy for Hunter runs deeper than her psychological disorder, and Nakli can dish out awkward, slow burn compassion with the best of them, but that connection between Luay and Hunter misses the timely mark with a blank and acute switching of allegiances gone unspoken and with inaction. Luna Lauren Velez (“Dexter”), David Rasche (“Cobra”), Babak Tafti, Nichole Kang (“Ten Minutes to Midnight”), Zabryna Guevara, and “American Horror Story’s” Denis O’Hare rounds out the cast.
Hunter’s fixation can be compared to the likes of any other vice and soul-swallowing addiction – gambling , drugs, sex – but the very fact that it’s Pica, and on a certain level of the OCD spectrum, makes Mirabella-Davis’ script somewhat of a curious oddity as the filmmaker builds a story around a dysfunctional family and one’s own personal grasp on destiny. Though set in modern times, “Swallow” very much has a 1950s-1960s vibe with the dynamic of the working husband and the wife stays home to spruce up the house; there’s even a particular scene of Hunter vacuuming in a 50’s-ish tea length swing dress. Despite the story’s curious and odd nature and the stuck in time antiquated gender inequality veneer, Mirabella-Davis utilizes these aspects to shape and shed light on the more diabolical of inner detriments with Hunter’s lack of confidence and autonomy stemmed from a difficult to swallow past and a financially affluent relationship that actually disallows personal freedom. “Swallow” is oppressive in ways as Ritchie and his family and friends attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Hunter with value being the unborn child amongst other things. The psychology of “Swallow” melds past and present together to form Hunter’s dangerous method of taking over the reigns of a life she never steered and Mirabella-Davis crafts an exquisite niche thriller to encourage us to gobble up.
Second Sight Films, a label known for it’s substantial and lavish re-releases, snacks on another high profile film with their profound limited edition Blu-ray of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow.” The single disc, PAL encoded, region B BD-25 is presented in the original aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Since a BD-R was provided for review purposes, I am unable to comment on the true characteristics and qualities of the audio and video, but do note Katelin Arizmendi’s stunning cinematography that’s full of palpable texture to every minute piece of inedible edibles Hunter puts down her throat and the gorgeous long shots of Hunter being engulfed by the depth with the isolating forest setting that looks to be lurking in the background. The limited edition release hit shelves this past Tuesday, the 22nd, and has a ton of features to check out, including a new audio commentary by director Mirabella-Davis and producers Moilye Asher and Mynette Louie, A Personal Story exclusive interview with the director that’s seriously in-depth and passionate about his work on “Swallow,” Something Bubbling Underneath exclusive interview with producer Moilye Asher, The Process exclusive interview with editor Joe Murphy, Metal and Glass exclusive interview with composer Nathan Halpern, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s take on “Swallow” A Room of One’s Own, Mirabella-Davis’ short film “Knife Party,” and a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Haley Turnbull along with a soft cover booklet with an introduction by the director and containing essays by Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola, and Ella Kemp. Lastly, at the tail of the special features are 6 beautiful collectors’ art cards. “Swallow” is rated UK 18 and runs for 94 minutes. Bennett wins the prize for making “Swallow” a throat-clearing success and bravo to Mirabella-Davis for being brave enough with an unusual story set around an uncommon eating disorder and directing the hell out of it.