Mild Indigestion: Our Review of ‘Swallow’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - April 28, 2020
Mild Indigestion: Our Review of ‘Swallow’

Right from the outset, writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis makes no bones about the premise of his solo debut feature. One look at the poster and you know exactly what you’re in for – star Haley Bennett’s vacant expression as she holds a thumbtack up to her mouth, all visually couched between the cheeky tag line, “Open Up”, and the film’s confrontational title, Swallow. Strap yourselves in, ladies and gentlemen. Things are about to get painful.

With a concept this transgressive and direct, the only mystery remaining is why a young housewife in a seemingly blissful domestic situation like Bennett’s Hunter Conrad would all-of-a-sudden start ingesting increasingly dangerous objects. Could it be because her passive-aggressive trust-fund douchebag of a husband barely seems interested in anything she has to say? Or maybe how that extends to her sanctimonious in-laws, who bombard her with social invitations where they interrupt her or give her unwarranted advice? How about the fact that she gave up her dreams of being an illustrator to marry into a social class that inherently looks down on her? And that she has no real friends or family to speak of to commiserate with? Ummmm, all of the above?

And herein lies the problem with Swallow – it’s a movie that’s all concept and no complexity. As soon as Hunter finds out she’s pregnant and instinctively swallows a marble soon after, it’s already painfully obvious why she does it. We’re supposed to be queasily shocked when she chokes down that thumbtack but it just feels like a glib punchline to a trite joke, as if the idea of suffocating domesticity hadn’t been explored in countless other stories up until now.

Mirabella-Davis’s script is so impressed with its own thematic conceit that he also forgets to give any nuance to the characters, particularly for his lead actress. Bennett has always had good energy in the past, but Hunter may as well be an alien from another planet here, fixing a blank or stunned look to her face for the entirety of the film. When all she can say to her husband during an early romantic dinner scene is, “I’m so grateful”, it’s hard to imagine how they even had any chemistry in the first place.

Swallow is artfully designed and carefully composed, recalling the work of Todd Haynes (Safe is clearly a major inspiration) and even utilizing a ’50s Sirkian melodrama musical score. But it all feels like a transparent stunt, especially when a third-act twist that clumsily tries to wrap everything up just comes off like another cheap contrivance. In sensationalizing his narrative of domestic emotional abuse, Mirabella-Davis ends up trivializing the real psychological horrors that women face in homes all over the world.

  • Release Date: 4/28/2020
This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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