REVIEW: Swallow (2019) is “Horrifying Precisely Because of How Real it Feels”

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“A riveting, realistic thriller”

Hunter (Haley Bennett) seems to have it all: a rich husband, a baby on the way, and a gorgeous home with space for a massive garden. Yet, she starts to feel confined to her home. Her aptly-named husband, Richie (Austin Stowell), encourages her to stay inside and rest throughout the pregnancy. With no job to attend to, her life is consumed with preparing the house for the baby. Her relationship with Richie is increasingly distant as Hunter feels stifled by her financial dependency and lack of control of her life. She finds release in a very strange place as she impulsively swallows a small glass marble. 

Courtesy of IFC Films

Swallow is one of the most accurate representations of intrusive thoughts seen in film. It succeeds in engulfing the audience by putting them in Hunter’s shoes as she experiences severe anxiety and eventually pica, a rare eating disorder. Pica causes the eating of non-food objects and often occurs along with obsessive-compulsive disorder (O.C.D). All too often, O.C.D. and comorbid disorders such as pica are stigmatized in the media. Swallow avoids this tendency by letting the audience feel what Hunter feels and taking her condition seriously. The audience follows Hunter as she goes through treatment, relapses, and attempts to make her life into what she wants. Before her diagnosis, Hunter felt trapped in her marriage and life. After hospitalization for eating inedible objects, she gets a therapist to help her. Her treatment is entirely facilitated by her husband though, implementing control even in Hunter’s attempt to feel free.

Courtesy of IFC Films

The terror of Swallow is horrifying precisely because of how real it feels. There’s no ghost, vampire, or murderer coming to harm people. Instead, Hunter is haunted by her own mind. Her fears of confinement, lack of power, and more are inescapable even when she seeks treatment.  Even if she manages to leave her husband and re-start her life, she would still need to find ways to cope with pica and manage her anxiety. This is the reality for those living with mental illness: no matter how good life gets, there is still the possibility of relapses and the reality of living with your own brain while knowing it has the capability to cause you harm. 

Swallow is terrifying not because of what is on the screen but because of thoughts that linger beyond the credits: what would it feel like to ingest a thumbtack? How would you get to that point?  What does it feel like to be trapped within your own life? As these thought-provoking questions fester, Swallow ends with a cathartic bang that will leave viewers satisfied. The film is a riveting, realistic thriller about one woman’s experience with mental illness. 

Dir.: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

Prod.: Carole Baraton, Frédéric Fiore, Mollye Asher, Mynette Louie

Cast: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O’Hare

Release date: March 6, 2020

Available on: Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, or Microsoft store rental