Although the trope is screaming “Don’t go in there!” or “Look behind you!” in a horror movie, at some point in Swallow, you will feel physically compelled to shout “Do not put that in your mouth!” For the second time inside of a month, a sleek flick written and directed by a dude dabbles in feminism. Much like Invisible Man, the thesis of Swallow is uber-explicit and overwhelmingly on-the-nose.
Together, the two films feel like being in a creative writing class with young bros who have just had the “woke” realization that “women are, like, people too, you know?” Is this progress? If it is, let’s hope “step two” is actually letting women write and direct gorgeous parables about marital oppression and the haunting horror of sexual assault.
In case it was buried in the previous sentence, writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s film is a gorgeous parable. Swallow is buoyed by a brilliantly delicate performance from Haley Bennett, who resembles a hybrid of Michelle Williams and Jennifer Lawrence and may be as (or more) talented than both. She plays Hunter, a former toiletry saleswoman now unhappily married to a wealthy young douchebag. If you needed proof of that whole “on-the-nose” thing, her husband’s name is “Rich-ie.”
Hunter is smothered by the expectations of her in-laws. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she develops pica. That is a very real condition in which people are compelled to eat things that you very much, absolutely should not eat. When she first puts a marble in her mouth, things get uncomfortable. Within a few minutes, you will be longing for the time when someone ingesting a marble made you uncomfortable. As she grapples with the quiet, muted monstrosity of her abusive domestic cage, revelations about her past emerge, leading to a third act that is definitely going to make folks squirm.
Awash in clean lines and crisp colors, Swallow looks like a Mad Men set designer was asked to envision present day. Fittingly, that also points to the complicated part, as the themes sure feel like a 1960s understanding of sex- and gender-based issues. The first two acts have a strange, hazy feel to them, while the final act goes for a literal plot resolution. Although weirder would have been better, if only because Bennett is spectacular the more room she’s given to roam, the conclusion feels somewhat “brave,” if only with a lower-case “b.”
Anyone who hears that Swallow is a feminist thriller about a woman who eats strange objects and thinks “I should check that out” is almost certainly going to be satisfied. That is, they’ll be satisfied with the movie, and wholly uncomfortable with what Hunter done ate. Although undeniably better when women are given the space to tell stories of abuse, remedial anti-sexism is still anti-sexism. More than anything, you should see Swallow because Bennett absolutely, positively deserves to be an A-list actress. Whatever ScarJo was being penciled in for next, kick it her way, okay?
Grade = A-