Carlo Mirabella-Davis told Talkies Network that we are experiencing “this beautiful renaissance of horror”. Notably seen with the rise of political horror’s such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us and Ari Aster’s Midsommer which took the entertainment world by storm, Mirabella-Davis’ feature film debut Swallow deserves a coveted spot right next to them.
Back in high school, I molded a part of my personality along the ground of loving classic horror. Since then, my need to be a pretentious film buff has dissolved completely and I am not shy to admit my love for the newfound sub-genres of horror that have emerged recently. Admittedly, I am now partial to psychological horror more than anything else. That is why Swallow set itself up perfectly for me. Not only is it a psychological horror, but one with social commentary?! Count me in. Swallow follows the story of Hunter (played by Haley Bennet who completely knocked this performance out of the park), a young housewife in a seemingly perfect marriage who develops pica – the compulsive urge to ingest largely non-nutritive and sometimes plainly inedible objects.
Before I even get into the actual story of the film itself I need to gush about the aesthetics of it for a bit. This film is beautiful. Along with my pretentious love of classic horror in high school, I was also the girl who meticulously worked on creating the perfect Tumblr blog layout and criticized its every detail until I felt it looked good. While the obsession with classic horror may have faded, by love for aesthetically pleasing things has definitely not. I have now moved onto the more mature outlet of Pinterest for my everyday curation needs.
With that being said, Carlo Mirabella-Davis knows his stuff way better than I do and it is evident by the ever so beautiful shots present in Swallow. Someone definitely knows their colour theory. At times, I would even say it is comparable to the aesthetics of Wes Anderson films. With a story as heavy as this, the details matter all the much more. Apart from being just genuinely nice to look at, the way Mirabella-Davis plays with saturation (and lack thereof) creates an environment where the entire story is overlaid with this sense of cold disconnect, mirroring the inner-workings of Hunter’s experience.
This film will make you uncomfortable, but not for the reasons you would think. Yes, this film is body horror, but not in the typical way. There are no explicitly gruesome depictions of bodily harm or contortions of the female bodily transformation that usually resonates in pregnancy focused body horror films. It’s almost voyeuristic in nature. It feels as if you shouldn’t be there. The way Mirabella-Davis shoots these scenes transports us into these intimate moments with Hunter. In a world that is desensitized to sex scenes on the big screen, these moments give us that same raw and unfiltered intimacy of Hunter swallowing these objects in its place. It’s framed in a way that makes you feel as if you should look away, give Hunter her privacy as she navigates that journey with her body, but you can’t seem to do it. It makes you uncomfortable in the best way.
The colour palate of the movie isn’t the only way that Mirabella-Davis frames Hunter’s world as cold and disconnected. The way in which certain scenes are shot also play into it. That same voyeuristic effect aids in making Hunter seem small in her large sterile-feeling modern house. However, as a juxtaposition, at the same time, the director shoots in a way to not allow Hunter to fade into the background with carefully articulated shots of her in group scenes. As a whole, the creative direction and attention to seemingly minor details really pulls Swallow together to create the unshakeably cryptic feeling that will stay with you even after the credits roll.
While some would argue that Swallow moves slow and lacks action, I would counter by saying that yes, while the pacing in this movie is slow at times, it needs to be. It may not be dialogue heavy or rather action heavy either, but that does not mean there isn’t story. Swallow is a story about the American dream and the falsity it lays its foundation on. It tell us that domestic ritual does not equal comfort, sometimes it can make you feel like you are being swallowed by the expectations of society. Swallow lets us know that there is no cookie cutter way to life and that perfection is not attainable. Swallow isn’t east to digest and I can see why it isn’t for everyone, however Swallow is part feminist psychological horror, part dark comedy, and part domestic drama that uses body-horror as an allegorical tale of female autonomy and self-worth. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as Carlo Mirabella-Davis said, it’s is a” tiramisu of genres” and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Rating – 9/10