REVIEW: SWALLOW examines the idea of taking physical control over one’s self to escape the claustrophobic psychological horror of existential dread.


Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ unique feminist horror film examines the psychological damage from being forced to live as a trophy Stepford Wife versus the physical damage of the compulsive disorder used to make that burden palatable.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growing trend of genre film as a metaphor for addressing global issues in culture. From films like Ari Aster’s MIDSOMMAR using pagan horror as a metaphor for addressing the life and death of a relationship cycle, to films like THE LODGE and GOODNIGHT MOMMY using genre as a means to address the concepts of loss and alienation. Similarly, SWALLOW uses the vehicle of the genre film as a means of exploring issues of identity, feminism and its role in a relationship, as well as issues of personhood in a wealth-driven patriarchal structure.

SWALLOW follows Hunter (Haley Bennett), a doe-eyed former salesgirl who marries into wealth when she meets Richie (Austin Stowell), the scion of a powerful, patrician family who cares little about Hunter’s role in the marriage as long as she minds her place and remembers to be grateful for the elevation in social class her relationship with Richie has afforded her. It’s clear for the viewer at the outset that Hunter and Richie are not a good match. Richie thinks of her as simple and really only wants to be pampered, while Hunter struggles with what to do with herself in a Stepford Wife’s dream home. Her interests in drawing and bettering herself seem hollow and she starts to exhibit a growing claustrophobia in the spacious home she occupies, especially when her choices in decoration and her very person are being second-guessed. This comes to a boil when she finds herself pregnant, and suddenly she’s not just a possession, but merely a vessel for the future scion of this family. It’s at this point that Hunter starts to develop a compulsion called Pica, which leads her to swallow ice at first, but soon, this leads to bigger objects like found marbles, and even thumb pins.

This builds a growing sense of dread and tension for the audience, as Mirabella-Davis, shows us the aftermath of these little compulsions, as Hunter begins to build a treasure chest of items she has passed. As the audience becomes aghast, it also empathizes as we see that this is Hunter’s only chance for expression, as we learn more about Hunter’s tragic backstory, we wonder, who is the victim in this situation and is there any escape?

Mirabella-Davis touches on a lot of heavy material in this film, but it is handled in an engaging and responsible way, not shock for the sake of it. This is largely due to the performance by Bennett as Hunter, whom she makes a compelling and sincere character looking to belong. This is a great performance and one that is to be commended for its fearlessness and bravery regardless of it being in a genre film. The film’s editing and cinematography, coupled with its production design, really make it seem accomplished and expansive while showing us how isolated Hunter is through clever shot framing.

In many ways, SWALLOW deserves to be in the same conversation as films as GET OUT in terms of drawing attention to the plight of women in abusive/controlling situations as GET OUT places on the status of black people in modern America. While they both use genre as a lens, the focus is on the inequality and displacement both black people and women feel as minorities ina world where they lack privilege and agency. Both do so in poetic ways and both should be required viewing for those looking for genre as a source of relevant social commentary about our culture today.