Horror Movie Review: Swallow (2019)

Swallow is a 2019 psychological horror/thriller film written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, in his directorial debut, and starring Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, and Denis O’Hare.

Hunter, a young woman from a lower working-class family in upstate New York has recently married Richie. A man from a wealthy family who is set to take over as CEO of his father’s Manhattan corporation. This affords Hunter, once an aspiring illustrator, the ability to stay at home in the couple’s lavish upstate home on the Hudson River. Despite this, Hunter finds herself increasingly emotionally stifled and isolated in both her marriage and domestic life. She finds Richie distant and inconsiderate toward her. One day while home alone, Hunter develops the impulse to eat a marble, and musters the courage to do so. She finds it exhilarating, and begins to consume other inedible objects around the house. They include thumbtacks, metal figurines, and batteries. Each item she swallows, once digested, she meticulously cleans and arranges on her vanity.

After Hunter finds out she is pregnant, she and Richie visit the hospital for a routine ultrasound, during which the technician notices an anomaly in Hunter’s abdomen. She is rushed in for emergency surgery to remove a variety of objects trapped in her intestine. After the surgery, Hunter is diagnosed with pica, a psychological disorder that compels individuals to eat inedible objects. Richie’s parents, Katherine and Michael, arrange for her to see a psychiatrist in the city. During her therapy sessions, Hunter slowly divulges her attraction to consuming the objects, which she says is mainly because of the feel of their textures in her mouth.

At the behest of his parents, Richie hires Luay, a family friend and immigrant from Syria, to monitor Hunter while Richie is at work during the day. Hunter, feeling increasingly smothered, is initially hostile toward Luay. Who dismisses her mental illness as resulting from her privileged life. Despite the others’ efforts to stop it, Hunter continues to covertly consume objects. Through her continued therapy sessions, she eventually reveals that she was not raised by her biological father and in fact has never met him. Though she knows his name and keeps a picture of him in her wallet. She tells her psychiatrist that she was conceived as a result of her mother’s rape at the hands of a strange man whom she had met in a bar. The rapist was caught and served time in prison for the crime. When her doctor asks if Hunter’s mother ever considered terminating the pregnancy, she explains that her mother is very religious and does not believe in abortion even in cases of incest or rape.

While gardening one afternoon, Hunter overhears Richie speaking with her psychiatrist on the phone. And realizes that Richie has financially bribed the doctor to reveal the content of her sessions with Hunter. This sends Hunter into a panic, and when Richie leaves the house, she swallows a miniature screwdriver that she finds in the kitchen. Luay finds her choking violently, and phones 911. After undergoing surgery to remove the screwdriver, Michael and Katherine arrange to have Hunter committed to a psychiatric hospital for the next seven months until she delivers her baby, threatening that Richie will divorce her otherwise.

Will she be able to overcome her pica? Will Richie’s family use her for the baby and then abandon her?

To start off with I just want to say that after viewing Swallow I wouldn’t class this as a horror at all. It’s definitely more a thriller/drama. Swallow lulls you into thinking it will be a horror at first. It’s creepy and interesting plus it opens with a lamb being cooked, leading you to believe perhaps she’ll go on to trying other meats or something to that effect. But this film is more about trauma and that trauma leading to unhealthy mental illnesses such as pica (eating inedible objects).

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I enjoyed the first half of the film. Hunter swallowing different items and building up to bigger items fascinated me. But then it began to bore me as I realised this was not the movie I was lead to believe it was.

I can’t hate on the message of the movie at all. It’s a valid message that should be talked about, as should abuse and trauma but at the same time I expected some blood or gore and was left with scenes where Hunter just talks with her therapist.

Everyone acts well but I was a little confused on her in laws. On the surface they did seem like they were doing the right thing, there was a level of fakery to their relationship but still, she did need professional help. I didn’t find her husband to be as awful as perhaps the film wanted me to either. Additionally, only someone as talented as Denis O’Hare could make me want to empathize with a rapist.

Overall, Swallow is a bit of a false promise. It’s title makes perfect sense when the ends comes around but it lacks any real horror elements. Furthermore, when the film starts to wrap up they suddenly drop the entire plot of the film and simply focus on the message the director obviously wanted to get across. Hunter never gets better, never gets help and it all ends very abruptly. The choice she made was definitely not a cure all for everything she still needed to unpack. Although again I cannot fault the movie for such a strong message that should be more discussed openly.

  • The Final Score - 6/10
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