Review: 'Swallow:' A dark, twisted tale that might trigger your gag reflex
I’ve been to more than a few film festivals over the years. One of the rewards is seeing independent films that sometimes never go mainstream.
They are often provocative, cleverly made and often entertaining. To some degree, Swallow plays like one of those movies.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what you’re in for.
Without giving away any spoilers that you wouldn’t have seen in the trailers, it’s a story about a beautiful young bride who marries into money and luxury only to find herself quickly sinking into what the medical field calls Repeat Intentional Foreign Body Ingestion (NCBI).
In short, it refers to the irrational impulse to intentionally and repeatedly swallow things that you never, ever should.
Case in point the previews show the main character, Hunter, ingesting a glass marble which she timidly places in her mouth and then forces down her throut. We also see her attempting to swallow a sharp, pointed push pin which she spits out. In the trailer.
It’s a provocative story that some may find gross, disgusting and unwatchable. If you have any gag reflex issues, Swallow is definitely not for you.
Before it even gets underway, you might be repelled by the opening scenes depicting a lamb being selected, graphically slaughtered and served on a gourmet plate, a little on the rare side. Though shocking, the scene emotionally sets you up for everything that follows.
Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Swallow has a curious similarity to the basic set up of the recently released movie The Invisible Man (starring Elisabeth Moss).
In both cases, a likeable, attractive young woman finds herself in an Architectural Digest home living what appears to be a dream existence—a handsome husband, beautiful surroundings, everything you could possibly want. That is, until you scratch beneath the surface and discover that both these women are tortured souls, looking for escape.
Hunter, as it turns out, is a young lady from the other side of the tracks who lands her trophy husband only to discover that neither he nor his family has the slightest interest in her beyond subservience and baby-making.
She is not in control of her life, and that ostensibly drives her to her strange obsession.
It’s all about control. In the interest of becoming a better wife and mother, she follows the advice in a postpartum self-help book that suggests that she should challenge herself by doing something unexpected. And boy, does she ever.
I won’t get into the details of short list of objects that she challenges herself to forcibly gulp down and pass through her body. Or how she collects them afterward in the bathroom toilet (shown in graphic close-up detail). One by one, the recovered objects are lined up and proudly displayed on her dressing table.
Having an obsession like this can certainly be a problem, particularly when you’re a woman and you’re pregnant.
Embarrassing things show up during your sonograms and scans. And that leads to the dramatic core of Swallow.
We wonder how far all this will go and where, exactly the overall story is going in terms of dramatic resolution. Her predicament is increasingly repulsive, but it keeps you watching.
Another reason to watch is some noteworthy cinematography, lighting and art direction. There is some really fine work here, particularly in the first half or so of the movie.
Haley Bennett stars in Swallow. She is also listed as the executive producer. You might remember her from The Girl on the Train (2016) or Music and Lyrics back in 2007 with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. In that one, she turned in a standout performance as a vacuous pop singer channeling the likes of Brittany Spears (sorry Brittany fans). She was brilliant, I would even say perfect, and I made a mental note to keep an eye on her career.
In Swallow, she is a haunting presence, a beautiful young bride with some scarring emotional baggage.
Unfortunately, it is that emotional baggage from her past that causes Swallow to take a sharp unexpected turn near the end just about the time that we are expecting to see how things might be resolved with her exasperated husband and in-laws.
At that point, things suddenly get strange in a whole different way as witnessed in a scene at near the end when she crashes a child’s birthday party and proceeds to have a heated, one-on-one exchange with one of the adults while no one around them in the small house seems to overhear or notice.
I’ll avoid the details of the ending except to say that it felt like an afterthought. The final shot seemed like something thrown in to substitute for the lack of a real ending that might have offered some sort of resolution or closure.
A lot of independent film festival films that I’ve seen have left me with that same reaction. Great potential stories with great premises that were sadly unfulfilling in the end. In show business, you always need a big finish.
Granted, there is a dark, twisted element at the heart of this story that is boundary-pushing and perversely appealing. But, taken as a whole, it is (forgive me) a lot to swallow.