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Haley Bennett endears, shocks, and astounds in 'Swallow'

by NoBeige 2 years ago in movie review
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A film that takes the phrase 'hard to stomach' to a whole new level

'Swallow' follows Hunter, a newly pregnant housewife who spends her days playing games on her phone, cleaning, redecorating her very chic first home, and ingesting a series of harmful objects. It's not what you would call a typical daily routine, but it's one which shines a light on an underlying trauma which is only exacerbated by Hunter's increasingly controlling in laws and husband.

The most striking element of 'Swallow' is without a doubt Haley Bennett's performance. She is at once beguiling, earnest and innocent. You cannot help but watch her movements throughout the movie and feel some what enchanted as she almost glides through rooms, her movements graceful without feeling forced. You immediately sympathise with Hunter as she continues to push herself to gain and attain the affection of her new found family. One particularly uncomfortable scene is at a family dinner where Hunter seems to try and engage in conversation but is talked over by her husband, her dejection not even significant enough for anyone else on the table to bat an eye lid.

It is in this same scene where we see Hunter, alienated and isolated, place a whole ice cube in her mouth as she gulps it down. This is the first we see of her compulsion which becomes progressively more fatal throughout the 1 hr and 30 minutes. The acts themselves are both disconcerting and oddly rousing as you wonder whether she will be able to go through with it, and actually survive. It's almost an extreme version of bush tucker trials, except here you aren't nearly as giddy. With each object you cannot help but be concerned about her unborn child, and it begs the question of whether Hunter really even wants this baby, or in fact this life she has made for herself.

Hunter seems simultaneously overly grateful for her circumstances, and jarringly unhappy. The camerawork beautifully showcases her innermost feelings with well-timed single shots of Bennett's expressions in response to her family's callousness and indifference. Her face abruptly contorts into a smile each time one of the characters bother to notice her. It is clear she is trying to play a part, one she has not rehearsed or studied for, and nevertheless deeply wants. However, her condition signals otherwise, and it is this unravelling which ultimately initiates Hunter's transformation and need for closure.

The aspect I found most interesting about 'Swallow' was its unique approach to the horror genre. Its most obvious source of fright is the gory nature of Hunter's swallowing sharp objects. However, you beocme gradually more aware of the sinister undertones surrounding her husband and his family. On the surface they are your quintessential 1%ers, almost caricatures really, but their over involvement in their son's life, and by extension, Hunter's evokes a familiar fear; the fear of being surrounded, trapped by people who do not have your best interests at heart.

Okay, it isn't the run of the mill fear that we are used to when it comes to horror e.g. gushing blood, psychotic serial killers, the undead etc. Nevertheless, in the new age of isolation and narcissim, more and more people are seeking connection. However, seeking connection, family, friends, can be a risky endeavour, one that could lead to you down a less than ideal path. Yes, Hunter has a recognised psychological disorder formerly known as pica, but the greater fear here is not her struggle with mental health, but her being trapped in a loveless life. Isn't that something we all fear, deep down?

'Swallow' is above all a showcasing of Bennett's talent as an actress. On the surface she looks like a cross between Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, and thankfully the similarities do not end with looks. Her performance here is electric and as a viewer you are left wondering why you have not seen her in more leading roles. The film itself does well to harness Bennett's prowess, but she indeed carries it, as opposed to it being the other way around. The performances of her co-stars leave a lot to be desired, often they seem to be parodies of themselves. The soundtrack is brilliant, creating welcome tonal shifts which flip the film from being your run of the mill drama, to a thriller, and at times a comedy. But, on the whole the style of the film outshone the story telling itself, which is a shame because the positives in this film are plentiful, and it is a fine directorial debut from Mirabella-Davis.

Despite some shortcomings i'd urge others to watch 'Swallow', even if it is just for the leading lady. I would especially reccomend others to watch it if they too enjoyed stylisied horrors such as Ducournau's 'Raw' or Michel Grau's 'We are what we are'.

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