Personal histories and societal burdens in Swallow



A blushing bride, burdened by domesticity sublimates her issues by turning them inward. Literally. She develops pica, gulping down commonplace objects, including a battery, a pushpin, a safety-pin, to start — likely not what the self-help book meant when it innocently encouraged her to do something unexpected everyday. Her husband (Austin Stowell) is of the generic privileged WASP variety, works in a nondescript job or his father, who recently bought the young couple a house overlooking the Hudson isolated from the rest of the world.


In the lead as Hunter, Hayley Bennett does her Julianne Moore-best, woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown though Bennett’s character is more fragile, scared, eager, and self-aware. The stakes and power rankings are established at the outset: Hunter preps her husband's dinner daily, idles around the house, gets heckled when she accidentally irons a silk tie. Shying away from conversation, she’s interrupted and talked over whenever she does deign to speak. Her mother-in-law (Elizabeth Marvel imperious, yet unbiased) proffers this nugget concerning marital bliss — fake it til you make. Soon, one fateful evening curled up on the couch popping a gargantuan bowl of cheese balls becomes a visual omen for what's to come.


Hunter’s sartorial choices glance backwards. Modest turtlenecks, miniskirts, A-line dresses topped with a neat collar — classic 50s inspired house-wife-garb, as if to scream what a woman should wear. Frames are composed in such a way to imprison her. Eclectic upholstery and excessive seating threaten to overtake her, and the window panes of her modern fortress home lay down shadow lines over her. She gets lost in the interior decorating. In Safe, Moore was by contrast in command of her space, sending back a sofa that came the wrong shade of sickly teal.


Unlike Todd Haynes’ satire, Swallow leans into its drama in earnest. Director Mirabella-Davis backpedals on the domestic strife, trading an exploration of prescribed roles of society for something more personal: individual histories. Hunter’s family life are laid bare as pathology overtakes the picture, which becomes one of feminist struggle and survival. As if the pica weren’t enough, the film wends through other womens' issues, inscribing a full thematic circle on bodily autonomy. One wonders if the director thought the film wouldn’t stand on its own with the just the pica metaphor. Nonetheless his fictional feature debut is formidable and assured, and Bennett proves compelling, eyes about to stream and her ruddy cheeks ready to burst through egg shell skin.