She swallows a marble, a thumbtack, soil and more. Hunter’s eating disorder is as strange as it is terrible. Watching her ingest objects in the film’s trailer is attention grabbing, but in the film it’s nauseating. Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis is too thoughtful to be making this purely for shock value; Swallow is a meaningful study of mental illness through a captivating, off-the-wall character.
Hunter (played by Haley Bennett) is the newlywed, trophy wife of Richie (Austin Stowell) and has married into a wealthy family. Her husband is the stereotypical handsome and privileged type who is comically pampered by his parents. This close-knit family trio is all Hunter has, yet it becomes clear early on that their differences are severe and Hunter has an unhealthy absence of belonging.
On one hand, it looks like Mirabella-Davis is criticizing the rich as pompous and oblivious people who only hurt the integrity of society. If there were such a thing as moneyism, Richie and his family would be devout followers. I’m not sure that a critique on class and a survey of psychological disorders belong on the same playing field. If they do, the chemistry isn’t present in Swallow.
On the other hand, Richie’s family could be a representation of the general population’s ignorance and mishandling of mental illness. Mirabella-Davis devises key moments that showcase how cautious one must be when engaging with a fragile mind. In this way, Swallow demonstrates valuable lessons.
Usually, the protagonist grasps the reins to the story, but in Hunter’s case, it’s those around her who grab hold. She doesn’t have two feet set in the ground, so as she falters she’s pushed this way and that; it forces you to feel for her.
It’s not an easy role to play. Bennett does a fantastic job of burying that emotional suffering inside of Hunter just enough so that it noticeably waffles within her during social interactions. Bennet switches up her character’s personality depending on who Hunter is with, showcasing Hunter’s lack of stability.
But with a short runtime, a character can only be developed and played with so much. With 30 more minutes of variety and story enhancement, Hunter could have been a classic character we might never forget, like Travis Bickle or Daniel Plainview.
Mirabella-Davis’ feature debut is impressive in all aspects of filmmaking. Swallow boasts gorgeous imagery to go along with its pensive, character-driven story. The obscure symbolism of sheep and the curious character, Luay (Laith Nakli), add some extra fat for us to chew on. Hunter and her bizarre habit will make you feel uncomfortable, but, as Mirabella-Davis shows, it is precisely that feeling that must be faced in dealing with mental health.