Joseph’s Review: Swallow (Final Girls Berlin Film Fest)

★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

A Stepford Wife in training begins swallowing dangerous objects — and that’s only the start of her problems in this artistically crafted chiller that features a remarkable performance from Haley Bennett.

Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Swallow is an astounding film that starts off with nail-biting body horror and “woman slowly going mad” elements before changing the course for its protagonist and viewers on a mesmerizing journey. 

Haley Bennett stars as Hunter, a young woman newly married to self-obsessed silver spooner Richie (Austin Stowell). Her parents-in-law (David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel) are the types who keep an outwardly calm facade while controlling others and paying to make problems go away as quietly as possible.

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After Hunter, who is doing her best to appear the modern version of a 1950s-television “perfect wife,” learns that she is pregnant, she begins a secret obsession with swallowing household objects. Starting with a marble, she moves on to a thumbtack in a chilling scene, and things get worse from there. She can’t keep her secret to herself forever, though, and once Richie and his parents find out, hell bubbles and seethes underneath the still-seemingly-perfect outward surface of their marriage, slowly and dreadfully breaking loose — and then another of Hunter’s secrets comes to light.

Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis makes a stunning feature film debut with Swallow. Every shot is beautifully framed, and captured gorgeously by cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi, who also shot Cam (2018) and worked on It Comes at Night (2017). The dialogue is fraught with tension. Even the slightest of carefully crafted barbs and jaw-dropping reveals slice like paper cuts, and the sudden jolts regarding what might be about to happen are hard hitting. Mirabella-Davis keeps viewers guessing and on edge, resulting in a third act which is absolutely mesmerizing.

Bennett is incredible as Hunter. She nails every demanding aspect of her character’s arc, with subtle nuances to her facial expressions that make each of her close-ups something to behold. Hunter starts off meek and apologetic, not wanting to make a mistake that might upset or anger Richie or his parents, and then takes bold strides to break out of her shell, and Bennett is thrilling to watch on this pilgrimage. The rest of the cast is up to the task, as well, including an important supporting role from genre favorite Denis O’Hare (Lizzie [2018] and various seasons of American Horror Story). 

It would be unfair to spoil Swallow’s secrets here, so suffice it to say that there is a highly satisfying feminist element and that taboo subjects are addressed. The film is bound to be divisive. This unflinching genre-bender is both beautiful to look at and difficult to watch, and though it puts both Hunter and viewers through the wringer, the experience is well worth going through.

Swallow screened at Final Girls Berlin Film Fest, which ran February 6th –9th at City Kino Wedding in Berlin, Germany.

Review by Joseph Perry

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