Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Swallow (2019 film)


Written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, Swallow is the story of a young woman who marries a wealthy man as she starts to swallow inedible objects as a way to cope with newfound marriage and stifling domestic life. The film is a character study of a woman coming apart in her new world as she becomes troubled by her surroundings as well as the expectations of being the wife of a wealthy man. Starring Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, and Denis O’Hare. Swallow is a haunting and compelling film from Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

The film is the simple story of a poor woman who is married to a man from a wealthy family as she becomes pregnant yet becomes suffocated by her new environment and the role that she is meant to play where she starts to swallow inedible objects to cope with her issues. It is a film with a simple premise yet it is a character study of a woman who marries into a family of wealth where their son is expected for great things as he demands that his wife be this object of perfection and beauty. Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ script has a straightforward narrative yet it focuses largely on its protagonist in Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett) who spends much of her time at home cleaning and such as a way to make her husband Richie (Austin Stowell) happy but she becomes unhappy due to his neglect and the presence of his parents who want her to be this figure that they need for their image. Still, Hunter begins to unravel as her condition, known as pica, would worsen as Richie’s parents hire a family friend in Luay (Laith Nakli) to watch over her yet he starts to see that something isn’t right as does Hunter’s psychiatrist Alice (Zabryna Guevara) who manages to get something from Hunter realizing what is wrong.

Mirabella-Davis’ direction is stylish in its compositions as there are little movements in the camera yet much of it has the camera not moving in order to create these shots to play into Hunter’s disconnect with the world she’s in. Shot on various locations in Highland, New York near the Hudson River where Richie and Hunter’s home is as well as other locations in upstate New York. Mirabella-Davis plays up this world that Hunter is in as it is spacious and posh with the finest furniture and decorations yet it is also quite cold as the usage of wide and medium shots play into this growing disconnect that Hunter has in her home as well as the world around her. The usage of close-ups come in whenever Hunter would swallow an object such as a marble, a paper clip, and other things eventually swallowing something as dangerous as a thumbtack. It adds to this air of danger and disruption into Hunter’s marriage to Richie while the signs that not everything as it seems come early when Richie complains about a silk tie that’s been ironed.

Mirabella-Davis also play up into the psyche of Hunter as she would fall apart but then get better and then fall apart again such as a key shot in the second act where Richie is having a phone conversation while Hunter is planting flowers. It is a moment where Hunter’s own secrets about her life begins to play into her head as she would later hide in shame with Luay realizing that something isn’t right in that house despite the fact that he’s working for Richie’s parents to watch her. The third act does play into not just the air of extremes that is pushed for Hunter but also revelations about her marriage along with the need to understand on who she is. Overall, Mirabella-Davis crafts a mesmerizing yet unsettling film about a woman with a troubling condition in pica as a way to cope with her new marriage and suffocating environment.

Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi does excellent work with the film’s cinematography to play up the bright look of the house interiors in the day along with some low-key lighting for some scenes at night including a party scene where a co-worker of Richie uses a stupid flirt trick. Editor Joe Murphy does terrific work with the editing as a lot of it is straightforward with some long shots that do linger for a bit to play into Hunter’s own growing isolation. Production designer Erin Magill and set decorator Frank Baran do amazing work with the look of the interior at Richie and Hunter’s home including the room for the baby as well as their bedroom as it play into the disconnect that Hunter is coping with. Costume designer Liene Dobraja does fantastic work with the costumes from the expensive clothes that Richie wears along with some of the posh dresses and such that Hunter wears as it play into the role that she has to play for Richie’s family and friends that eventually becomes stifling.

Special effects supervisor Pete Gerner and visual effects supervisor Alex Nobel do wonderful work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects in a few of the objects along with some set dressing in a few scenes. Sound editor Michael Kurihara does superb work with the film’s sound as the usage of natural sounds at the house add to the tense and troubling atmosphere in the film as it also amps up the drama. The film’s music by Nathan Halpern is brilliant for its orchestral score as it play into the drama as well as Hunter’s own isolation while music supervisor Joe Rudge provides a soundtrack that add to that isolation ranging from classical, jazz, dance, and new wave.

The casting by Allison Twardziak is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Babak Tafti as a co-worker of Richie that uses a pick-up line to win over women, Nicole Kang as a young girl named Bev, Lauren Velez as that girl’s mother Lucy, Zabryna Guevara as Hunter’s psychiatrist Alice who gets an understanding of what Hunter is dealing with, Laith Nakli as a family friend of Richie’s parents who watches over Hunter as he also has an understanding that Richie nor his parents are able to comprehend, and Denis O’Hare in a superb performance late in the film as a man that Hunter needed to meet as he would give her some answers. David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel are excellent in their respective roles as Richie’s parents in Michael and Katherine Conrad with the former being a man of control as he is trying to make sure Hunter gets the best treatment but with motives of his own while the latter is also a person of control as she tries to get Hunter to read self-help books and such while also having a motive of her own.

Austin Stowell is brilliant as Richie Conrad as a wealthy man who is destined to take over his father’s business as he is someone that is also controlling while he has own reasons in wanting to marry Hunter. Finally, there’s Haley Bennett in a phenomenal performance as Hunter as this young woman from a poor background who marries this man thinking she’s got it made only to feel lost and suffocated in her new life. There is an element of restraint in Bennett’s performance as this woman that has no clue on the role she should play as her act of swallowing inedible objects is defiant as it play into the horrors of the role she is meant to play as it is a career-defining performance for Bennett.

Swallow is an incredible film from Carlo Mirabella-Davis that features a great leading performance from Haley Bennett. Along with its supporting cast, striking visuals, an unsettling tone, an offbeat music soundtrack, and its themes of identity and isolation. It is a psychological drama that doesn’t play by the rules as it explore a woman coping with her new life and how it leads to self-destruction along with revelations about the role she is meant to play for others. In the end, Swallow is a phenomenal film from Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

© thevoid99 2021


Ruth said...

Ooooh I've been curious about this one, so I have to see where I can rent this. Haley Bennett is an underrated actress, I want to see this for her and also CYRANO which looks sumptuous!

SJHoneywell said...

Yes! I love this movie so much. It's very much in the "good for her!" subgenre of films, and while it's not really a horror movie, it's one that is very much adjacent to the genre in all the best ways.

Such a strange premise and handled far better than I could have hoped.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-I think it's still on Showtime/The Movie Channel as it is worth watching. Especially for Bennett who is underrated and the person that kinds of need to be thanked for this is Terrence Malick. She was doing work for him but didn't make it to the final cut but Malick did offer footage of her to other filmmakers and that's how she was able to do films like The Equalizer and such.

@SJHoneywell-I agree that it's not a conventional horror film but still it was a better film than I thought it would be as I felt for her character as I kind of think it's a real a film of de-humanization of sorts of a woman who is being treated like property instead of a real person. I also got reminders of Safe by Todd Haynes as I'm that film was an obvious influence.