Movie Review: Swallow

With the announcement on Tuesday afternoon that our cinemas would reopen on Friday (assuming our Covid numbers don’t spike between now and then), our film distributors are scrambling to fill the city’s screens with whatever they have in their catalogues. No, TENET will not be coming this week but I assume it will be here next week. [It was just announced that TENET will open here on September 10th.] Instead, we have a very mixed bag, most of which I haven’t seen and won’t be able to see before Friday. There is one film, though, that I have seen because it was released to the streaming services in March.

In SWALLOW, Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN) seems to have the perfect life. The young woman is a happily married, retro June Cleaver-ish wife of the rich and dashing Richie (Austin Stowell, BATTLE OF THE SEXES; COLOSSAL; WHIPLASH), who works in his father’s highly successful business. Richie’s parents, Michael (David Rasche, TV’s SUCCESSION and SLEDGE HAMMER!) and Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, TV’s HOMELAND and HOUSE OF CARDS; A MOST VIOLENT YEAR), couldn’t be more supportive of their daughter-in-law, though they show their love in a curiously passive-aggressive way. After Hunter announces that she’s pregnant, Richie and her in-laws’ slowly turn up the heat in their insidious attempt to control her. Hunter reacts by starting to swallow non-food items on the sly. When her actions become known to the family, Hunter is faced with examining the roots of her disorder, which leads to a string of decisions that the young woman makes in an attempt to bring control back into her life.

Who knew that you could make a movie about someone who has pica disorder? I must admit that I had heard of this disorder but never knew its name until I watched this film. Interestingly, pica can be triggered by pregnancy, a possibility that is barely touched upon in the film. Instead, writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, in his debut feature outing, links Hunter’s case with an incident that happened in her past. The story, which has the potential to go very dark and evil, suddenly takes a sharp turn to the left in a rushed third act when Hunter decides to confront that incident head-on. Suddenly, the tone of the movie changes and all the dread and mystery that Mirabella-Davis builds up in the film’s first hour gets chucked out the window. While the third act is interesting, I feel that it didn’t earn its right to be there. I would have liked to have seen more of Hunter’s emotional metamorphosis first. Perhaps in the producer’s attempt to keep the film to under 95 minutes, which seems to be the norm these days, about 10 minutes of exposition ended up on the cutting room floor.

That being said, SWALLOW is still a pretty good film. Bennett is excellent here as she keeps the audience guessing about Hunter’s state of mental health. Is she a modern-day Rosemary Woodhouse or is this all in Hunter’s head? We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Bennett later this year with two new films coming out – THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME with Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland, and HILLBILLY ELEGY with Amy Adams. I’m excited about CYRANO with Peter Dinklage, which is expected sometime next year. Rasche and Marvel put in solid performances here too. We need to see more of them on the big screen.

Can I just take a moment and mention that spectacular house Hunter and Richie live in? Known as The Fels, it is located in the Hudson Valley in New York state, not far from Poughkeepsie and rents for about US$1,245 a night.

SWALLOW premiered at Tribeca in April last year where Bennett picked up the festival’s Best Actress award for a US Narrative. It then went on the festival circuit for most of 2019 and now it’s getting its commercial release worldwide as cinemas start to reopen. The film opens here in Hong Kong tomorrow. It’s also available on Netflix and Amazon Prime if you’re still stuck indoors.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, August 28th, 8:30 am HK time!

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