If you’re curious about Pica and don’t want to watch a questionable and exploitative reality show, you’re in the right place. Swallow is a psychological thriller and body horror laced with dark comedy.
Haley Bennett carries the film with a measured and captivating performance. Hunter does everything she can to be the perfect obedient wife she looks like a human trying her best to be a doll, clamping down on any other kind of emotion other than happiness and contentment.
In one dinner scene at home, Hunter contains the disappointment and sadness in her eyes while maintaining a perfect posture in a red dress. After spending time alone cooped up in her house and making an effort to dress up and prepare dinner, her husband makes little effort to have a conversation and uses his phone instead.
The script is good at painting the insidiously toxic family she has to deal with. Richie and his parents treat her like furniture, masking their passive-aggressiveness with fake smiles and control with feigned concerns. When you find out how Richie and Hunter met it sounds like a fairy tale, but it hides an awful truth that’s common in real life. It’s no wonder that Hunter decides to swallow a marble one fine day.
Purposeful cinematography and production design on top of an empathetic script save Swallow from being an exploitative flick that is very common anytime a disorder is involved in the premise.
Hunter’s increasingly dangerous habit is set against a posh Hudson Valley home that evokes 50’s glamour, recalling a regressive era when a woman’s ideal role is to please others. Swallow doesn’t just use this for shock value and serves the story (a clinical psychologist was hired to be a consultant on the film). The plot shows what role Pica plays in Hunter’s domestic ennui. The movie’s aesthetic turns to grey as Richie and his family attempt to cure her with selfish motivations.
At this point is where the movie veers away from the grotesque elements of its story. It’s commendable for the director to show a woman dealing with her trauma, but this derails the film’s efforts in the process. We already know why Hunter has an eating disorder, but the script chooses to focus on a particular past that is vaguely connected to what she’s going through. This woman-on-the-run drama gives Richie no closure at least. Denis O’Hare turns a few lines into a powerful admission.
Overall, Swallow is an engaging and earnest movie that has something important to say about the deeply ingrained soul-sucking expectations of a woman’s domestic life. It’s no surprise that studies show unmarried women live longer and happier life than their counterparts. In the end, Hunter gets a well-deserved catharsis.
Swallow is a squirm-inducing yet engrossing domestic horror with great performances, character-driven script, and captivating visuals.