Friday, May 29, 2020

New Flesh: Swallow (2020)

[Every month, I choose a new or lesser known horror film to highlight and recommend. The is the first:]

The Film: Swallow (2020)

What Is It About?: Swallow follows Hunter Conrad (Haley Bennett), a newlywed who moves into a new home with her rich husband Richie (Austin Stowell). It seems as if Hunter has the perfect life, complete with the discovery that she is pregnant with her and Richie's first child. However, Hunter begins to feel a loss of control due to Richie's subtle insistence on her taking on the role of obedient housewife and her own troubled past beginning to bubble to the surface. To deal with her inner turmoil, Hunter begins to swallow inedible objects including thumbtacks, marbles and various other random objects. As her disordered eating and her husband and his parents's (Elizabeth Marvel and David Rasche) attempts at maintaining control worsens, it becomes clear to Hunter that something must be done in order for her conflict to reach a resolution.

Why Do I Recommend it?

Y'all, I initially wanted to watch this because I knew of Haley Bennett from her on-screen debut in the Drew Barrymore rom com Music & Lyrics in which Bennett basically plays Shakira. After her performances in that and a teen horror flick called The Haunting of Molly Hartley, I lost track of Bennett until I stumbled upon news of this movie. An actress I hadn't seen in a film in years doing a horror movie, let alone one with the concept about a housewife who begins eating random objects? Yeah, I was sold right away. And, low and behold, Swallow lived up to my anticipation when I finally watched it this spring.

There are a few reasons why Swallow is a must-see: I'll start with the cast. As I just mentioned, a large part of why I wanted to see this was because of this being a horror vehicle for Haley Bennett. Well, Bennett is a revelation in this role, playing a character that feels like a spiritual successor to Mad Men's Betty Draper. Bennett gets to show off her range, from having several stretches of the film dedicated to her trying to fulfill her husband's smothering expectations of her even while he's absent, to reacting petulantly to her therapist when the doctor tries to prod information out of her, to metaphorically and literally reflecting on the choices she's made and the choices she has yet to make. The supporting cast of Swallow are also up to par, including Austin Stowell as Hunter's husband Richie. As Richie, Stowell gives the character the insidiousness it requires and gradually dials up the true nature of the role until everything is laid on the table with the final act. You also have wonderful character actors like Elizabeth Marvel as Hunter's overbearing mother-in-law and Denis O'Hare in the minor yet pivotal role of William, a man with ties to Hunter's past.

Haley Bennett has the range as Hunter in Swallow (2020)

On top of the cast, you have the wonderful direction and screenplay from Carlo Mirabella-Davis. This is Mirabella-Davis's debut narrative feature, with his prior credits being a short film from 2008 called Knife Point and a documentary he co-directed with two other filmmakers called The Swell Season. However, you wouldn't know this is Mirabella-Davis's debut feature as with this one feature, he displays an immense talent. Mirabella-Davis's screenplay is a wonderful, character-driven piece that is carried by its three-dimensional protagonist. Something that should come as no surprise when you read interviews with Mirabella-Davis: The filmmaker has discussed in interviews how the film and the Hunter character were inspired by his own grandmother, whom lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and was ultimately institutionalized and lobotomized without her consent. With the personal origin of the film in mind, it is no wonder Mirabella-Davis would take extra care with his roles in the construction of the film.

If talking about the cast and the writer/director didn't sell you on seeing Swallow, hopefully the fact that, above everything else, that this film is simply gorgeous to look at will. Swallow was shot by cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi, who carries over her color-driven camera work from her previous film Cam to great effect. Arizmendi works with Mirabella-Davis to create a visually stunning film that is fueled by a color palette that mixes primary colors with natural colors. Yellow, blue and red are everywhere in this movie, along with a lot of natural greens, browns and whites. It creates a really nice mix that allows the film to stand out visually when it wants to: One scene that features Hunter in a passive aggressive conversation with her mother-in-law has Hunter bathed in red drapes and the mother-in-law bathed in blue drapes. Not only is this scene a delight to look at, but it establishes red as the color that appears when Hunter tries to make her own decisions and blue as the color of the Conrad family, a color that smothers Hunter whenever her autonomy is thwarted. On the flip side, there are also several scenes that emphasize the natural colors, such as multiple scenes where Hunter is dressed in brown and tan clothes that blend her in with her environment. The purpose of this is to emphasize the lack of visual thrills, as it shows that Hunter feels powerless to the point where she feels less than human and, therefore, must swallow to bring herself back to life.

An example of the beauty of Swallow (2020)

Available on: Video on Demand, iTunes and Amazon.

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