Swallow (2019)

Rates: * * * * 1/2

Why did I watch it? Recommended by fatiekitz

Cast, crew, etc.

In an upmarket mansion in upstate new York, a young housewife struggles to adjust to her new life. Originally from a lower class background, she is now the trophy wife/servant/baby producer for a self centred finance exec, her needs totally subserviant to his. As her days blend into each other, she finds an unusual means to exert some control over her life: complusive swallowing of ever more dangerous household objects.

Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ indy drama starts off chilly and cerebral, introducing us to a hermetically sealed world defined by rigid control. Everything has its place, including our protagonist Hunter (brilliantly played by Haley Bennett, who also produced), which is wherever her husband wants her to be. The camera follows her around her airless luxury residence, where she spends most of her time by herself, capturing this empty existance in a series of precise shots.

Hunter’s rebellion starts with a marble and quickly escalates; a thumb tack, a battery, a mini screwdriver. Compulsive swallowing is a real condition known medically as ‘pica’: here it is depicted as the one thing Hunter can do that is truly hers, a special secret she keeps from her creepy husband and his repressive family.

It is also depicted as a type of self harm, which is a common response by people who have suffered trauma. And it is this, the revealing of the main character’s traumatic birth and childhood, where the film moves into entirely different territory for the final act. Hunter will have to face up to long repressed thoughts and feelings, and physcially confront her past, represented by a father she has never previously met.

After the coldness of the set up, this becomes unexpectedly emotional, delivering a finale that has real impact. Having been a passive spectator in her own life for so long, Hunter claims her own agency by film’s end, walking out of frame and into a new and more independant life. It’s the end of a chain reaction of events, started by swallowing stuff you aren’t supposed to swallow; sometimes you have to step outside the frame, even if you are unsure where this will lead.

After Hunter leaves, she has been in a public bathroom, so she washes her hands and goes, as the closing credits roll, a powerful song called ‘Anthem’ by Athena Yorke plays over a static image of women walking in and out of the same bathroom. And it leaves the film on a note that really got me; who are these people? What secret stuff is each one up against?

A very impressive small scale movie, a lot to think about. Bennett’s performance is the standout but the visuals and soundtrack are also very impressive.

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