Like many film fans, in the run-up to the end of the year, I’m taking stock of the films I’ve seen and compiling a best of – which should be on the site by the end of the week. Being extra diligent this year, I’ve been trying to catch up on as many UK 2020 film releases as possible and let me tell you, there is one film released this year to VOD at the start of the pandemic that we did not talk about enough. CineChat-ters, I present to you one of the best films of 2020 – Swallow.
Hunter is a young housewife, stuck at home all day in a luxurious but sterile and secluded mansion. When she falls pregnant to husband Richie something doesn’t feel right. Her mother-in-law gifts her a pregnancy book that advises her to ‘try something new and different’ every day. So Hunter decides to swallow a marble.
It’s a fascinating psychological study of class, of claustrophobia, of looming motherhood and isolation – not to mention the actual compulsive disorder itself Pica. (Pica is a compulsive eating disorder in which people eat non-food items. Dirt, clay, and flaking paint are the most common items eaten.) Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, who also wrote the screenplay, creates a viscerally sterile environment in which he has trapped Hunter. The set and costumes are straight out of a 1950s housewife advert with not even a pin out of place. Mixing the perfection of the setting with slightly off-kilter camera framing, Mirabella-Davis is able to keep the audience on edge, sensing fear but never quite knowing where it’s coming from. Vivid use of colour, especially tones of blue and red emphasise the closed-off-ness of not only Hunter’s location but she herself and her husband. Nothing is natural about them, their relationship, or their home.
Haley Bennett plays Hunter in a stunning performance. Starting off as vacant and irritating, from the moment she crunches down on her first ice cube, we see a spark go off. Bennett plays the lost young woman with perfect precision, we can see that every move she makes has been thought over, practised in the mirror over and over. With very little dialogue and holding almost every scene, many by herself, she captures the lost soul trapped in a perfect housewife mannequin.
As the plot & pica develop, so too does the score which in and of itself feels cold and metallic, echoing not just Hunter’s prison physically, but the mental torture she is putting herself through as she swallows more and more.
I was blown away by Swallow. The film felt tactile, cold, painful. Just watching it I could feel my throat closing up and found myself shouting at the screen as the disorder ramped up. The slow build towards the final act is satisfying and there are no flaws. The colours, the shots, the score, Bennett’s performance – it’s picture perfection.
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