As all the cinemas around the world are closing, a lot of people are seeking films on streaming services now. Swallow, was distributed in cinemas earlier in the year in the US, but is getting a release through streaming services here in the UK. I watched it on Google Play, where you can rent it for as cheap as £1.99.
The film is the feature film debut of Carlo Mirabella-Davis, who directs and writes the film. The film’s cast involves a lot of character actors, including Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche and Denis O’Hare. The film focuses on Hunter (played by Bennett), a newly pregnant housewife, trapped in a unhappy marriage to Richie (Stowell), and dealing with Hunter’s judgemental and interfering parents, Katherine (Marvel) and Michael (Rasche). In an attempt to deal with this, she begins consuming small but dangerous objects, from a marvel to a battery to a paperclip. As she gets therapy for this, she must have to deal with her unhappy marriage, and a dark secret from her past.
One of the great things about seeking movies on streaming movies, is that some odder, stranger movies are getting a wider popularity, like Vivarium, Bacurau and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Swallow is no exception – it is a provocative, startling, and sometimes, cringe-inducing drama that never stops being interesting.
Mirabella-Davis has shown – in his first film, no less – that he has a lot of talent and creativity that boards well for his future career. In discussing his influences for the film, he lists the classic horror film, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Todd Haynes’s psychological drama, Safe (1995), and you can definitely feel these influences beaming off the screen.
The film actually, though, feels more influenced by the works of say a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers in how Mirabella-Davis is able to inject real-life situations with a oddness and weirdness. The film is very reminiscent of Anderson’s film, Phantom Thread, as from the outset it looks like a handsome but possibly quite plain drama, but Miranda-Davis is able to make it feel weird, strange and ultimately, creative and original.
There is a terrific dinner scene involving Hunter, her husband and her in-laws, which is exactly like this – at first you think it’s going to be the usual type of dinner conversation, but the director subverts our expectations, and by the end of it, Hunter is chewing on ice. Davis also brilliant does this with the film’s non-diegetic soundtrack. Particularly, a montage in which Hunter swallows a variety of things is juxtaposed with The The’s This is the Day to great affect.
Also, really great here is the performances. Bennett is an actress that has never quite managed to break out into the mainstream – she has had supporting roles in The Girl on the Train and The Magnificent Seven, but they never really went anywhere. Here, with her perfect The Stepford Wives-like appearance and haircut, her soft-spoken voice and sweet nature, is really able to master the character’s robotic nature. However, she is also able to make us feel a lot of sympathy for her, and influences how cathartic it becomes at the end, when, this Stepford Wives Robot type actually sticks up for herself against her doormat husband and annoying in-laws.
Speaking of which, all of which are terrific, especially Marvel. A character actress, who has appeared in various films and TV Shows (a notable credit includes the season 2 of Fargo), she is really great here, injecting a lot of scowling judgement and underplayed disapproval to what could of been a blank character.
Because of all of this, it does start to feel almost believable that Hunter starts doing these unspeakable acts. Although, Mirabella-Davis never loses the cringe inducing squirm-iness that the film obviously has. You still feel completely horrified when she starts swallowing things, and by the end, you’ll probably have a lump in your throat.
The only negative here, really, is that I wish the director had made some more daring narrative choices, particularly for a film as startling and odd as the film is. In particular, an ending confrontation, which is supposed to be the answer to all of Hunter’s worries, feels a little bit too easy and safe.
The film very much feels like a first feature – I’m sure that Mirabella-Davis’s second (or third, or fourth) feature will be more polished, but this one is still damn good on it’s own. If you’re a fan of body horror, Rosemary’s Baby or Phantom Thread, I’m sure you will love this. I know I did.