Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Written by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O’Hare, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, Luna Lauren Velez, Zabryna Guevara, Laith Nakli, Babak Tafti, Nicole Kang, Olivia Perez, Kristi Kirk, Alyssa Bresnahan, Maya Days, Elise Santora, Kathleen Butler
Find out more about this film here!
SWALLOW is a deep dive into a terrifying psychological disorder. It goes into grueling detail of the illness known as “pica” and depicts the devastating effects that has on a family. It is an intense dissection of the disease and tragic look at what might be one of the causes of it. But even though it does have horrifying aspects of it, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a horror film as it is being advertised. If you’re going into this looking to be scared, nauseated, thrilled, terrified, and horrified, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re going into SWALLOW with a more open mind about genres and looking for a well-acted, intriguingly paced, and thorough analysis of a bizarre disease, you’re going to find yourself pleasantly surprised and entertained.
Haley Bennett plays Hunter Conrad, the new wife of Richie (Austin Stowell)—a well-to-do businessman from a well-to-do family. Hunter is getting used to her new life; staying at home during the day, cooking for her husband, watching her stories on the TV, playing Candy Crush on her phone, and decorating their new home. When she finds out that she is pregnant, Hunter and her husband seem happy. But soon, Hunter begins swallowing harmful objects, endangering her child. The reasons she is doing this are deep and complex and the story gets into that eventually, but the bulk of it is the ordeal of trying to understand, cope with, and help someone who is consciously harming themselves.
SWALLOW tells a big story. It focuses on both the disease, how it affects a family, and tries to hypothesize about the causes of this disease. SWALLOW is set up like a thriller about a woman out of her element trying to fit into a world outside of her class. While her husband’s family is wealthy, she comes from poverty—a fact that whittles away at her confidence. Her husband, who at first seems like a supporting spouse, seems to simply want a pretty armpiece for a wife—one that can look pretty at parties and give him kids. Again, this is an intriguing premise and one that adds to the pressure Hunter feels to live up to her husband’s high expectations. While eating harmful objects might seem extreme and ludicrous to some, the film does a good job of showing us the pressure Hunter is under. So when things start getting weird, we go along with it, because it seems we are lead to believe that this is a thriller-style film.
Without giving too much away of the plot, it feels like this film started out wanting to be a thriller with pica as the centerpiece. The problem is that any time one focuses a movie on a disease, one runs the risk of sensationalizing that disease in order to not only tell an entertaining story. It feels like filmmaker Carlo Mirabella-Davis wanted to shed light on the subject matter, but when the story calls for something dramatic to happen, he shies away from it. So instead of SWALLOW being a horror movie, it feels more like an educational movie determined to tell people about this rare and odd disorder. Yes, there are moments where we see Hunter eating something horrible like dirt or a needle. These scenes are well done as they convey a lot with very little dialog (actress Haley Bennett makes this easy which is a testament to her skill as well). But the ramifications of these actions seem to drag and instead of going into the realm of body horror, the film veers into directions that seemingly come out of the blue. The film attempts to dive into the cause of the disease by having Hunter visit someone from her past, but this feels tacked on at the end and almost a part of a completely different movie.
Being a horror fan and understanding that this film is being geared towards horror fans, I have to say this film turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. It’s not a horror film. It’s a well dramatized infomercial for pica. The story is compelling, but only to a point, inundating Hunter with all sorts of pressures from every direction and really highlighting her isolation and despair. But I feel that the filmmaker knew coming to some kind of extreme ending or even resolving things properly might be seen as too easy, and instead he decided to honor those who have the disease by not committing to any kind of conclusion at all. This is a noble act that highlights that there are no easy answers or quick fixes to the disorder, but it doesn’t make the movie a satisfying watch in the end.
SWALLOW is a deftly directed film. The acting is top notch. Haley Bennett is a rising star and this film definitely proves it. You will feel deeply for Hunter and hate her husband and family for the pressure they put on her. The settings and atmosphere are wonderful at conveying the sense of loneliness and dread Hunter goes through. But don’t go into this one thinking you’re going to see horror. SWALLOW isn’t horror. Instead, it honorably decides to show us the tragedy of the disease, but only by sacrificing a proper resolution and a fulfillment of the promise of horror that this film is being advertised as.