‘Swallow’ Delivers A Filmic Exercise In Opression
by Ben Martin
Pica is defined as a disorder in which an individual compulsively consumes objects that have no nutritional value. (The majority of which are inedible.) Pica can have many different root causes, be it a psychological one such as stress or environment. Or, a physical one, such as an iron deficiency or pregnancy. Now, if Pica is news to you, you’re in the majority. I consider myself to be a guy who stays abreast of medicine and medical conditions. However, I must admit that I’d never heard of this disorder until a couple of years ago.
As a person who lives with Cerebral Palsy, I know what it’s like to have a medical situation you have little-to-no control over. Hence, it’s quite easy for me to emphasize with folks who have chronic medical conditions of their own. Therefore, upon learning of Pica, I remember thinking two things. Firstly, “Damn, that must be rough.” Secondly, the writer in me couldn’t help but think, “I’m surprised no one has made a body horror flick based around that. (Or a movie of any genre for that matter.)”
Well, someone finally followed through with basing a movie around a character who has Pica. First-time feature film writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis brings us Swallow. A movie that was highly-lauded when it played the film festival circuit last year and has finally made it to home video. Now available to the masses, I expect Swallow will be successful, due to its brilliant marketing if nothing else. See, the movie in review is being sold as a horror flick. Specially, a horror picture made in the tradition of the Body Horror subgenre, which filmmaker David Cronenberg helped popularize with his early films such as Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). In actuality though, Swallow is instead a dark domestic drama with some horrific undertones.
Swallow focuses on Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett), who stumbled into marrying rich. She lives in the lap of luxury as a newly expecting housewife. While such a lifestyle may sound relatively carefree on the surface, that’s not the case for Hunter. On the contrary, Hunter’s husband, Richie (Austin Stowell), and her in-laws control every aspect of Hunter’s life. This domestic situation, combined with the stress of pregnancy, seemingly cause the wife and mother-to-be to develop Pica. What begins as compulsively chewing ice soon takes a dark and dangerous turn.
In my estimation, Swallow feels more like a feature-length visceral experience than it does a movie. For the vast majority of this film’s 94-minute runtime, I felt a dreadful duo of emotions. On the one hand, I felt the same deep oppression that Swallow’s heroine does. And in turn, there were many scenes in which I found myself internally shouting at the character of Hunter, “PLEASE, STAND UP FOR YOURSELF!”
If Mirabella-Davis’ goal with the film in review was to create a tale that’s so narratively and visually oppressive that overwhelms the viewer’s empathy, then he succeeded. Such a goal is achieved by employing a brilliant cast. The lead performance by Bennett creates a protagonist who’s as frustrating as she is empathetic for the first two acts of the story. Then, by the time the third act kicks in, you feel different and more profound empathy for her. Granted, I doubt I’d reach such a point if it weren’t for the cast of horrible characters who surround Hunter and are primarily responsible for her state of being and new disorder.
Alas, such content and tone bring a significant downside. As you might have surmised, Swallow is incredibly hard to watch and appropriately unenjoyable. This viewing experience is further amplified during the film’s increasingly uncomfortable consumption scenes. As a result, the pace of the movie makes it feel like it’s a solid two hours. Even still, despite my being fooled into thinking Swallow was a body horror picture, only to see something else, this movie is worth watching. That is if you want such an experience above. Lastly and most importantly, though, Swallow covers new ground other moves have yet to touch.
Swallow is Available to Purchase or Rent on Digital HD Streaming, Blu-Ray & DVD!