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SWALLOW (2020) review

March 26, 2020



written by: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
produced by: Mollye Asher, Carole Baraton, Frédéric Fiore, Mynette Louie
by: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
rated: R (for language, some sexuality and disturbing behavior)
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: March 6, 2020


“Sorry, this ice is totally awesome.”


If you’ve haunted the darker corners of the internet or perhaps tuned into the television show “My Strange Addiction,” you’re likely no stranger to the phenomenon known as pica, wherein people feel compelled to consume non-food objects. It’s a very real thing with obviously very real consequences for those afflicted with it and it resides at the center of the new film “Swallow,” whose cheeky title is the first indication that the condition will be used mostly for sensationalism.

That isn’t to say that “Swallow” or its writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis – making his feature fictional debut – make light of pica or its repercussions. Instead, it feels more like a film constructed around a shocking twist, reverse engineered to portray the condition as a lingering effect of past trauma. Granted, a film which resides uncomfortably on that line between domestic thriller and horror isn’t the place to go looking for a scientific discussion on an obscure medical condition. However, the film feels like it could have hitched its wagon to just about any “strange addiction,” so long as it provided a means to that preordained end.




Haley Bennett – looking uncannily like a combination of Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams – stars as Hunter, whose seemingly idyllic life with super-successful husband Richie (Austin Stowell) is the textbook example of the American dream. However, Hunter is increasingly isolated by her husband’s busy schedule and the indifference of his parents (Elizabeth Marvel & David Rasche) to virtually anything she does or says.Even the discovery that she’s going to have a baby isn’t the happy occasion one might expect from such a situation. Instead, it’s abundantly clear that Hunter is nowhere near as excited by the news as her husband and his parents. In fact, she seems downright depressed by the news, and shortly thereafter turns to pica, a way for her to exercise control in a life she increasingly feels is out of her hands.

Now, I didn’t arrive at that conclusion as a master film critic, though I appreciate you thinking I’m that smart. Rather, the film spells it out through on-the-nose dialogue and medical diagnoses that have about as much depth as a Wikipedia stub. It’s a bit like a teacher pausing to summarize the lesson every few minutes in case there are still some students not following along.




Hunter’s pica starts innocently enough with marbles, batteries, and other solid items that will pass in one piece through her digestive system. As she graduates to increasingly more dangerous objects, the psychological trauma in Hunter’s past begins to linger like some magical Rosetta Stone. It’s as if Mirabella-Davis thinks he’s sitting on an extremely powerful revelation that’s sure to garner empathy for his lead character, all the while remaining ignorant to how thoroughly played out his explanation is in the realm of fiction.

As the film careens toward its wholly unsatisfying climax and the wheels come off altogether, there’s a disappointing urge to stand back and wonder if that was all the film had to offer. Wasted potential is almost always a worse sin than just flat out incompetence. The film’s cast is excellent and Mirabella-Davis is obviously a director with an eye for interesting shot compositions, but those factors alone can’t elevate a deeply flawed script or the film’s reliance on what its writer/director thinks are some killer twists.

Sometimes the most interesting explanation is none whatsoever, and after spending ninety minutes having everything spelled out in sometimes graphic detail, I would welcome a film with a little mystery to its central conceit. Instead, the film clings tightly to a surprise it thinks is revelatory, never stopping for a moment to consider it might not be so earth-shattering. That’s the sort of thing a more skilled writer would have jettisoned three drafts earlier, though I’d be hard-pressed to believe this script had more than two.



RATING: *1/2





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