Connect with us

Swallow | Review

On Body and Soul: Mirabella-Davis Gets Squeamish with Formidable Debut

Carlo Mirabella-Davis Swallow reviewAs much as it speaks to contemporary understandings of female agency, Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ astute directorial debut Swallow connects to a variety of intergenerational literary and cinematic texts concerning the social and economic traps set for women. Arguably, its focus on the privileged white collar expectations from the perspective of those lucky enough to be invited into such upper echelons assists with this sense of timelessness, uniting it with everything from Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her yellow wallpaper to Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995) and beyond.

Hunter (Haley Bennett) has recently married Richie (Austin Stowell), the well-heeled only child of wealthy entrepreneur Michael (David Rasche) and his socialite wife Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel). Her in-laws are leery of her and a bit dismissive, however, they do what all scions of the privileged do and purchase the couple an isolated, palatial estate. But getting to know Hunter means overwhelming her with their expectations and ideals, corralling her to be a stay-at-home wife to look after the home and support her husband’s needs. Quickly becoming pregnant, Hunter begins to resist her restrictions and finds herself attracted to swallowing increasingly dangerous objects. When this compulsion spins out of control, Richie and his parents swoop in to correct her aberrant behavior, though not with love, kindness or empathy. Forced to reckon with her mysterious past which neither her husband nor her in-laws have a clue about, Hunter is brought to a precipice.

A subtle and disquieting performance from Haley Bennett is the major selling point of Swallow, which fluctuates from a drastically visceral Cronenbergian body horror element to delirious, sometimes comedic anguish. Outfitted with a bob as defining to her aesthetic as the iconic do of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Mirabella-Davis channels the early Apartment Trilogy of Polanski with not only this film but the classic Repulsion (1965), where women’s spaces are minimized, their agency and psyche diminished by trenchantly isolating social expectations. Menacing characterizations surround her on all sides, from the careless cruelty of her oblivious husband, to her pretentious and imperious in-laws (a strident Elizabeth Marvel and mercurial David Rasche). Even the initial assuagement of a seemingly sympathetic therapist (Zabryna Guevara) is used to showcase the extent of Hunter’s violated privacy, and the logical condition of her peculiar and dangerous compulsion which marks this as a heightened story about control. Moments of aching empathy arrive unpredictably, perhaps at a zenith with the appearance of Denis O’Hare as Hunter’s biological father, a relationship mired in trauma allowing for hard-won but well-earned catharsis. Featuring a fitting soundtrack compilation, the pronounced production design from Erin Magill (Brittany Runs a Marathon, 2019) assists a visual array of fluctuating emotional resonance alongside some moody cinematography from Katelin Arizmendi (Cam, 2018).


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top