Written by: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Starring: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, Denis O’Hare
Reaching adulthood should come with a level of control in life, as individuals no longer have restrictions set by parents and age limitations. However, one can find themselves trapped in another form of control when they enter into a toxic relationship with a significant other. Depending on the level of toxicity, it can make such a negative impact on someone’s psyche as seen through the disturbing Swallow. A plea for help in unimaginable ways as a woman begins to comprehend the toxicity around her.
Hunter (Haley Bennett) seemingly lives the perfect life where she has a wealthy good-looking husband, who comes from a rich family and she can stay home in her majestic house and make it her own. The foundations of this perfection begins to crack when she discovers she has a desire to put random objects in her mouth and swallow them.
As strange of a premise as one could imagine, but incredibly potent with its meaning and intention, Swallow definitively tells a story about freedom and control in a demanding circumstance. The life Hunter lives would be the envy of many but the story shows the sheer amount of negativity flowing around her. She spends her day in this large house trying to make these things home, but she continually learns of the controlling nature of her husband and how he truly does not care for her. In the eyes of her husband and his parents, she appears to be this necessary component to life as someone who can be there for the pleasure of the son and a surrogate to bring grandchildren and the future of the family. It’s plainly shown when it’s revealed she’s pregnant and the first thing Richie’s father (Austin Stowell) mentions is that the kid will be the next CEO of their company. Hunter remains there to serve her purpose and once she begins to break away from it by assuming her own form of control, the supposed support systems, and fake kindness quickly begins to show itself.
The reason Hunter likes to swallow different objects does not get specified by one true cause, but it merely suggests her asserting control over one singular aspect of her life. Richie and his parents control everything about her from her look and the way she should act, but they cannot control what she puts in her mouth, and she seemingly gets some sort of satisfaction from it. As strange as it may be, it makes sense when seeing the horribly manipulative nature of her husband and his parents.
This modern aesthetic clashing with 1950s style of marriage comes through in glaring ways. The house Hunter lives in with her husband looks incredibly modern with its large windows and very open floor plan. The look is almost aggressively modern, which clashes with the hairstyle Hunter has and the type of relationship she has with her husband. One particular scene later on in the film displays Richie hearing about Hunter’s progress with her counselor directly, which certainly would not happen today but was commonplace in the mid-20th century. This clash of styles indicates the lack of progress in these relationships even if the outside appears to be glaringly new and contemporary.
Several moments in Swallow will make you shiver from the uncomfortable feelings it brings up. It goes beyond the weird scenes of watching Hunter try and swallow a thumbtack and other weirdly sharp objects, but also the societal ones. Some examples include when Richie’s mom suggests Hunter grow out her hair long because that’s the way her son likes it and when they have a house party and it’s evident Richie has told everyone about her disorder. Swallow refuses to allow these uncomfortable moments to pass by as it marinates in the terrible situations Hunter finds herself in and must react with the grace she’s expected to exude. The amount of gaslighting would drive anyone insane, but it all comes as part of the experience this film seeks to provide.
Devastating to watch at moments, but an important fight for freedom, Swallow allows for Haley Bennett to give a tremendous performance as Hunter. It presents multiple unsettling moments in the social situations as well as watching her swallow a strange collection of objects. What she swallows gets progressively more dangerous as the story continues just as the support system around her becomes more toxic as well. A tremendous film with several moments that may cause audible gasps and demonstrate the shocking level of control women have to endure when they marry into a completely horrendous family.