The “disturbing behavior” that merits “Swallow” its R rating begins innocently enough. Newly pregnant Hunter (Haley Bennett) chomps on glassy cubes of ice at a celebratory dinner with her husband, Richie (Austin Stowell), and his wealthy parents (Elizabeth Marvel and David Rasche), but from there she develops a desire to consume inedible objects that quickly escalates.
In her pearls, blond bob and ’50s-esque full skirts, Hunter looks like the picture-perfect housewife. She is, however, desperate for control of her own body and to feel something in a house she shares with a husband who doesn’t listen to her. Soon, she graduates to gulping down a marble, then a pushpin, followed by even larger, sharper things that disappear past her lips.
In its style and themes, “Swallow”evokes Todd Haynes’ “Safe” and “Far From Heaven” and, of course, the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, with its saturated colors, Midcentury furniture and story of a woman who will try anything to escape her life. As Hunter, Bennett is an absolute wonder, alternately sweet, sad and surprising in her portrayal of this complex character, who feels like a real person.
Writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis has made a feminist film that lodges deep in your throat, taking up residence in your chest as you struggle to breathe. At times, you’re unable to believe what you’re seeing and yet unable to look away. “Swallow” is difficult viewing at times, but it’s psychologically rich and always feels genuine, even in its gorgeously stylized approach to the interior life of its complex protagonist.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Starts March 6; Arclight Hollywood; Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; the Frida Cinema, Santa Ana; also on VOD