In and outside of film the experience of helplessness is second to none in terms of horror. The Saw franchise created an entire empire of the experience of people grappling with helplessness or succumbing to it with grislier results with each installment. However, not all situations of helplessness come from an unhinged engineer or a psycho in the forest, those feelings can be found in a simple suburban home. The true horror of helplessness is that it can be found anywhere. For Hunter (Haley Bennett) in Swallow helplessness can come from the people you love, your family, and a past that was never truly resolved.
It looks like Hunter has it all, a beautiful home, a handsome husband, and financially successful in-laws. Soon though it begins to become apparent that she isn’t seen as an equal in her home or with her family. Things only become more complicated when she finds out that she is pregnant. With things only becoming more tense she soon finds a strange comfort in swallowing objects, starting with a marble. During her ultrasound, the family discovers her new fixation and things only spiral further when they try to “help” her.
The writing and directing by Carlo Mirabella-Davis can only be described as painfully brilliant in how he executes the dialogue and each scene in such an emotional fashion. Swallow is a painful reminder to anyone who has ever had to explain their issues of mental health or their grievances to an uncaring or unattentive loved one. Hunter is treated as a second class person throughout the film being seen as only a wife and child-bearer, even adopting an almost 50s esthetic for house dresses. Her compulsion to swallow objects, a disorder known as pica, is seen as a burden on her husband and is almost never treated with sympathy. Everything Hunter is put through and the script creates a harrowing experience that has you praying she ends up ok.
Swallow, simply said, has some of the most incredible use of film making I’ve ever seen. This is a film that you could mute and every scene can be understood through the camera and the sharpness of the acting. For a majority of the film, Hunter is small in the frame and is only in focus when she is alone showing how she has been forced to feel small. The camera only has her large in the frame and locked onto her when she feels true enjoyment, mostly when she is swallowing objects. Watching this is akin to taking a cinematography class where the teacher pulls every trick out of the book and wows everyone with such effortless skill.
In the same veins of the dramatic character piece as Uncut Gems, all be it with a more sympathetic lead, Swallow is a powerful and gorgeous movie that deserves to be recognized. With dialogue that is miserable and at times downright chilling, the film is a drama bordering on thriller, that would be genuine horror in real life. Character that feels real in how truly selfish and uncaring they can be more so than any slasher. This a film that will have you in tears, clenching your fists, and waiting with bated breath hoping that it all works out in the end.
9 out of 10