We may be in the #MeToo era, but women are still living in a reality of being the “lesser” gender and many women still find themselves trapped in McMansion prisons while convincing themselves that they are lucky and happy to have such an existence. Hunter is precisely one of these women, but she will quickly find out that you truly cannot outrun your past.
Screening at the Final Girls Berlin Film Fest, Swallow takes a serious and complex issue, places it in a gorgeous box and presents it with quiet grace. Writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis has crafted a truly beautiful film who’s bright and colorful tones trick you into believing the same lie that Hunter does. Sure, her husband can be a tad distracted by his work and her father in law absolutely treats her like an object, but Hunter is living in a multi million dollar home, wearing beautiful clothes and filling her days with…nothing. Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train) inhabits Hunter like a second skin as she vacuums in kitten heels and a circle skirt, puts on lipstick and pearls to greet her husband when he arrives home from work and her icy blonde hair is always perfectly in place. She is the Grace Kelly archetype and she plays it very well until a positive pregnancy test turns everything upside down.
What should be a blissful and joyous time for Hunter, turns into a prison of societal expectations. In a telling conversation, her mother in law asker her, “What did you do for money before you met my son?” The notion that Hunter is anything but a low class girl who won the marriage lottery is simply not something to be entertained and her husband Richie doesn’t do anything to dispel this idea either. In fact, when he does happen to pay attention and listen to her, he speaks to her the way an adult speaks to a child. Hunter is a true trophy wife: she is there because she looks good and doesn’t talk back. Unfortunately, a bizarre eating disorder will disrupt all of this surface happiness.
Pica is an eating disorder wherein sufferers are compelled to ingest items of no nutritional value such as dirt, metal, paper, sharp objects, etc. Pregnancy can trigger it, but stress can also set it into motion. Hunter succumbs to the pica easily and when she ends up in the emergency room to have objects removed form her body, it’s here that we see her begin to fight against her lack of agency. Her husband and his family are rich and they want only to keep Hunter in line and keeping up appearances. A secondary story about her past pops up that helps explain her use of words like ‘totally’ and ‘awesome’, but it also feels a wee bit tacked on. Ultimately, it gifts us with a scene from Denis O’Hare that is fantastic and reminder number 79473084032 why he is one of the most spectacularly under-appreciated actors of our time, so I’ll take it.
Swallow moves at a beautifully languid pace which allows you to take in Katelin Arizmendi’s cinematography and really feel for Hunter. She is a Douglas Sirk character not only trapped in a bourgeoisie existence, but being held back by past traumas that she never had any control over. It is the final act that will show us who Hunter really is and will leave the viewer with so many mixed emotions. Certainly not for everyone, Swallow is a visually intoxicating look at personal agency, mental health and coming to terms with the things that makes us who we are.
Played as part of the Final Girl Berlin Film Festival
Images: Final Girl Berlin Film Festival