In his first feature film SWALLOW Director and author Carlo Mirabella-Davis tells the story of a woman with a fascination for taking in things that are actually impossible to swallow. This is of course primarily a symbol. One thinks. But we’ll reveal what it’s actually all about and how the film turned out in our review.
OT: Swallow (USA/FR 2019)
Until recently, Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett) was quite happy with her life. She has found a loving husband in Richie (Austin Stowell) and maintains regular contact with her loving mother. But when the news of her pregnancy is broken to Hunter, everything changes. From then on, her marriage to Richie is characterized by coldness and control, and Hunter only receives well-intentioned advice from her mother about nutrition and parenting. Out of this distress, the young woman develops a perfidious eating disorder: It starts with a glass marble. Later, Hunter eats more and more inedible things in order to regain some control over her own life. But the people around her begin to realize Hunter’s new habits and take consistent action against them…
At first glance it sounds like the slightly perverted idea of a horror author who specializes in bizarre material, but what the filmmaker Carlo Mirabella-Davis came up with as a premise for his feature film debut “Swallow” is based on an actually existing psychological disorder: Am People suffering from the so-called pica syndrome feel the urge to ingest things orally that definitely don’t belong there. In the past, questionable treatment methods such as electrical therapy and lobotomies were even used. In the case of the main character Hunter, the original meaning of the scientifically recognized illness and the later used figurative term for the unusual, hormone-triggered eating desires of pregnant women are combined: after learning of her pregnancy, she begins to eat things like marbles, paper clips and many other things until it all boils down to a specific object that ends that urge once and for all. Davis came up with the idea with his grandmother in mind, who suffered from at least one psychological disorder (including pica syndrome) in the 1950s in order to cope with everyday life as a housewife. The same thing happens to Hunter, who is not supposed to be persuaded to stop using electric shocks or questionable brain surgery methods. However, the long road to recovery is no less shocking. Even if Mirabella-Davis isn’t as symbolic at the end as the film suggests at the beginning.
Hunter (Haley Bennett) spends a lot of time at home as a pregnant woman.
This knowledge of the real existence of an “I swallow things that aren’t meant to be swallowed” syndrome strips “Swallow” of much of its symbolism from the start. After all, sufferers hardly think about why they act on some unnatural urge – they just do it. But that doesn’t take away from the film’s fascination. Above all, Haley Bennett (“Girl on a Train”) is an absolute stunner as Hunter, who is dissatisfied with herself and her life. With the help of her self-sacrificing embodiment of a woman trapped in her everyday life, who was largely forced into the role of housewife and mother from outside (the so-called regretting motherhood syndrome, in which women cannot cope with their supposedly natural mother role, also plays a big role here role), she allows the viewer to experience her emotional aberrations up close. She is far from simply generating pity for her situation – although that would certainly be appropriate given this combination of different problems. Instead, the script balances in such a nuanced way between different sources of conflict – sometimes Hunter allows himself to be pushed around a little too obviously and just needs the courage to rebel against her husband, other times you can clearly see from the scene that there are entrenched marital patterns that you can’t just break out of , when you’ve been trapped in them for too long – that Bennett is encouraged to achieve brilliant achievements. “Swallow” is an emotionally highly complex portrait of an even more complex situation that can and must always be viewed from several sides in order to really realize all the ups and downs accurately.
“Haley Bennett is an absolute stunner as Hunter, who is dissatisfied with herself and her life. With the help of her self-sacrificing embodiment of a woman trapped in her everyday life, who was largely forced into the role of housewife and mother from outside, she allows the viewer to experience her emotional aberrations up close.
The supposedly central aspect of swallowing is not so central in the end. The trailer alone reveals pretty much all the scenes in which Hunter fills her stomach with indigestible things; A scene in which the young woman has to go to the hospital and the doctors then remove various everyday objects from inside her remains particularly memorable. But even though the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) categorizes “Swallow” as a horror film, among other things, Carlo Mirabella-Davis writes and directs his story completely free of any atmosphere that evokes fear, disgust or thrill. The focus is clearly on the protagonist’s internal struggle. The brief moments in which Hunter lets a shard of glass or a pinboard pin slide down her throat are not only brief, but never come between the viewer and Hunter himself. This is also ensured by Katelin Arizmendi’s camera work, which primarily focuses on the main character’s head (“Cam”); The film poster is symptomatic of this, in which the colors red and pink that stand out in the film also come into their own. “Swallow” feels a bit like a (particularly calm) fever dream into which the viewer slowly slides together with Hunter until the connection to reality is completely lost.
“What do you think will happen if I swallow this glass marble?”
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, it’s not just Hunter’s family (which is a bit too one-sidedly evil) that acts quite brutally, although it never becomes particularly physical, but rather emotionally controlling and therefore toxic. Carlo Mirabella-Davis also consequently never takes the final step into madness, but in the last third he reflects on the tragic circumstances of Hunter’s personal background and resolves the scene quite unspectacularly as a trauma rooted in her past. Despite the knowledge that pica syndrome is a real disease, this can still be a bit disappointing; especially those who hoped that “Swallow” would ultimately be a symbolically charged horror milestone like “Midsommar”, “It Comes at Night” or “Get Out”. Instead, the makers deliver a largely straight-forward (family) drama without a double narrative base, into which – like pretty much everything – anything possible can be interpreted. But the director himself said that he was primarily interested in making a film that tells the story of the circumstances that can drive someone into such a disorder. Which proves once again: Sometimes real life is shocking enough and no longer necessarily requires dramatic exaggeration. “Swallow” is a prime example of how everything can still be damn oppressive in the end.
“Carlo Mirabella-Davis consequently never takes the final step into madness, but in the last third he reflects on the tragic circumstances of Hunter’s personal background and resolves the scene quite unspectacularly as a trauma rooted in her past.”
Conclusion: She swallows and swallows and swallows – but in the end the fate of the traumatized Hunter is much more interesting than the question of what the young woman will take in next. Without any double bottoming, Carol Mirabella-Davis tells an oppressive character drama that is particularly impressive because of its lack of symbolism, but might also disappoint some people to some extent.
“Swallow” will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD from November 25th.