Written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
What makes a pregnant woman hurt herself so badly? Bit by bit – or perhaps I should say bite by bite – Hunter (Haley Bennett) physically tortures herself. She swallows things: a marble, a pin, a battery. It gets worse.
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ fine drama shows at least some of what causes Hunter’s mental problems early on. But there’s so much more beneath the surface as the story goes. Your feelings about what Hunter should do…or what others should do for her…keep changing.
Think about the name. What sort of parent would name a baby girl Hunter? It’s not only a boy’s name; it’s as masculine and macho as a name can get. That’s a tough name for a boy, let alone a girl.
When we first meet Hunter, she seems to have hit the jackpot. A working-class girl, she just married the handsome and filthy-rich son of a very wealthy family. She now lives in a house that screams “I’m rich!” But it also screams “Antiseptic!” No problems and no originality, allowed.
But we see problems from the start. Her husband Richie (Austin Stowell) has a habit of interrupting her. Whoever is on the other end of the phone call is clearly more important. In one scene, a friend of Richie’s hugs her; she thanks him as if it’s a new, exciting experience. You never see her hug Richie – although they seem to have a lot of sex. (Don’t get the wrong idea. There are several sex scenes in Swallow, but none of them are, or intended to be, erotic.)
When her husband and in-laws discover she’s pregnant, they view her more as an incubator than a person. And that’s when she starts swallowing things that human beings aren’t supposed to swallow. It’s like an addiction; she just can’t stop.
Eventually Richie and his family find out, and everything goes wild. Born into privilege, Richie is used giving orders. When dealing with a wife with major emotional problems, he does everything he shouldn’t. He screams and yells at her and accuses her of trying to murder his baby. At Richie’s birthday party, Hunter discovers that everybody in the party knows about her habit. When he and his parents take her to an analyst, he insists that he sit in and listen to what his wife has to say to the shrink.
Hunter is in almost every scene in the movie, which means that Bennett must carry the entire film. She succeeds, but she didn’t do all that could have done. Bennett seems overly bland in the early scenes, and she grows into the part. A more skilled young actress, such as Saoirse Ronan, could have found more interesting shades of emotion in what could have been an Oscar-caliber performance.
Swallow is writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ first feature-length fiction film. I’m looking forward to what she’ll do next.
Swallow opens Friday at the New Mission.