The too-perfect compositions of writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow are betrayed only by the eyes of his lead, Haley Bennett. She plays Hunter, the pregnant housewife of Richie (Austin Stowell), young scion of a wealthy family. Their lives together have been assembled just so, with a beautiful well-appointed house and a complete absence of need. Whatever Hunter is supposed to want, she can get. Except we see in her eyes—haunted, distant, searching—that what she needs runs far beyond the current scope of her life.
Often ignored and with time on her hands, Hunter decides on a strange path of action, giving a literal meaning to Swallow‘s title: she starts ingesting various household objects—some easy (a marble), some painful (a pushpin). What’s more, Hunter saves these items, preserving them as secret symbols of her tiny internal rebellion. But what is she trying to escape: her pregnancy, her life, or something else? Mirabella-Davis’s script adeptly draws those lines, first to Richie and the demands of his finance bro lifestyle, then to his parents (sharply realized by David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel) who enforce the expectations of their son’s marriage. Hunter must stick to her role and Bennett’s efforts capture the brittle anxiety behind such sustained performance. As her hobby grows more dangerous, however, the family gets more involved, bringing in a psychologist (Zabryna Guevara) and a comically dour live-in nurse (Laith Nakli) to help. The reveals beyond that pair’s entrance are best left to be discovered; it suffices to say, however, that while Hunter’s actions provide obvious meaning—as a destructive act, hidden pleasure, and more—the direction of Mirabella-Davis’ film remains unpredictable.
Swallow at first appears to be about a woman trapped by her perceived duties as a housewife and mother. We’ve seen that before, often as a tale of a woman finding herself anew in the world. That element is here too, with Bennett’s Hunter flipping between strong and weak positions on her intense journey of self-discovery. What she’s trying to communicate, and to who is more complicated though. For our part, we need to listen—not just consume.