The premise of Carlo Mirabella-Davis's Swallow is incredibly queasy. Young trophy wife Hunter (Haley Bennett) begins to have an uncontrollable urge to swallow objects such as a marble and thumbtack. She passes these items, cleans them maticulously, and then places it on a tray. The tray holds her trophies as she progressively swallows more and more things. Hunter is pregnant and this details adds an intense layer to the proceedings. Luckily, this hard to handle premise is not all the film has.
Mirabella-Davis moves beyond the shock of seeing Hunter struggle to swallow and pass these items quickly. He is far more interested in the reasons that drive Hunter to do this. The control of her husband Richie (Austin Stowell) and his bougie family are largely to blame. Hunter doesn't want to be the good wife, she wants some control. The film resists making rich people the target. Richie loves Hunter in his own perverse way. This makes the film tense and mysterious as it refuses to offer up black and white portrayals.
Hunter is just as much a target. She has gotten herself into this situation and played the complacent wife role for a while. The condition she is diagnosed with, pica, is a direct result of her knowing that she has given up her will. The swallowing of random objects seems to give her sexual gratification as much as it makes her feel in control.
Haley Bennett is wonderful, playing all these layers at once. She is magnetic in the lead role. It is her performance and Mirabella-Davis's restraint that keeps the film far from gross-out territory and moves it into the realm of humanist horror. The film becomes more about abuse as it moves towards a cathartic ending. Hunter must confront her past, what is has done to her and how she can move on to heal. Swallow continues to upend expectations and in the end is a more than the premise may suggest.