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  Swallow The Craving
Year: 2019
Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Stars: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Denis O'Hare, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, Luna Lauren Velez, Zabryna Guevara, Laith Nakli, Babak Tafti, Nicole Kang, Olivia Perez, Kristin Kirk, Alyssa Bresnahan, Maya Days, Elise Santora, Myra Lucretia Taylor
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hunter (Haley Bennett) was going nowhere before she met Richie (Austin Stowell), treading water in a retail job and seeing her more artistic ambitions failing to bear fruit. But now she has a perfect life, married to a rich businessman, dwelling in a wonderfully tasteful house out in the countryside, able to afford anything she wants, and she has recently become pregnant, which her husband regards as the heir to the family company. But what if Hunter does not have everything she wants? What if she is actually very lonely out there in her supposedly perfect existence? What if what she really wants is to swallow that marble?

The act of swallowing objects or matter that have no nutritional value - no, not at your local fast food emporium - is a real, psychological condition, and can have very serious consequences to the physical health of the afflicted if left unchecked. It's called pica, and at the time this film was released had been gaining traction as a highlighted eating disorder in various sections of the media, to go along with the better-known anorexia nervosa or bulimia. While not as widespread as those, the impression was that these disorders do not exist in a vacuum, and once word had got out about sufferers pica may increase in, well, you hesitate to call it popularity.

But you get the idea. Swallow was very well-reviewed; cult director and celebrity John Waters chose it as his favourite of its year in his much-anticipated annual best of list, for instance. However, it did not make waves beyond the arthouse circles, as horror movie fans were disappointed that this did not so much fit into that genre, or any category in fact, other than the intense, female-driven drama with added weirdness that something like Todd Haynes' Safe slotted into after a fashion. That refusal to play by the rules was very in keeping with its heroine, but also made it hard to know who to recommend it to, so awkward was it no matter that this was entirely on purpose.

Hunter is a rebel in her way, and by the end her anthem could be Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me as she rejects the comfortable but sterile life that had been mapped out for her in favour of uncertainty, but uncertainty on her terms. Although it seems from the first half hour we know which direction this is heading, a gradual decline of the protagonist until someone locks her up for good, we are (pleasantly?) surprised that director and writer Carlo Mirabella-Davis was not going to play that game when a revelation halfway through in Hunter's therapy session that she shrugs off has, we perceive, obviously had a profound effect on her no matter how much she downplays it. It may be a bit pop psychology to pin down one incident as the life changer, mind you. That is until we realise it was a life changer for her mother, and that coloured her relationship with her daughter from the day she was born.

Bennett was excellent here as she goes from trophy wife to seriously unbalanced to finally reasserting herself, and the stifling characters around her were equally well-pitched in their performances, an upper crust who are used to getting their own way and revealed as really only invested in Hunter as a source of children for their casually cruel family. Denis O'Hare also made the most of an extended cameo near the end, a man who has suffered his crisis too, but unfortunately had to turn to violence to cope with it, which in turn led to more violence, and has had an effect on Hunter she didn't cotton on to. Some audiences may feel squeamish about watching Bennett swallow a tack, a battery and a screwdriver, among other things (including a mound of dirt she tucks into with gusto), and it's true not every female-led drama would bravely take this as its moment of triumph, but if you wanted to see a previously solid but unremarkable actress suddenly shine, this proved the worth of allowing the likes of Bennett to cultivate her own projects. Music by Nathan Halpern.

[Carlo Mirabella-Davis' Swallow gets Limited Edition Blu-ray release from Second Sight Films on 22 November 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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