Swallow begins with a woman, looking through a vast stretch of endless forest while settling her coif hairdo. She opens a box containing her makeup kit while at the same time a lamb is being taken to a slaughter house. People sit on a dinner table and devour their lamb chops while the lifeless skeleton of a lamb hangs in the slaughter house.
This opening scene of the 2020 psychological drama film hooks you up instantly. The scene acts as a metaphor in the intricately directed film by Carlo Mirabella Davis. Swallow, through it’s narrative tries to point out to an innate philosophy of this world that the oppressed will never allowed to have autonomy over anything by the oppressor. There is a discriminatory hierarchy created by the obsolete and conservative norms and there are quite a few with a stagnant and invariable mindset that conform to it. Sometimes it is the timid and subdued nature of the oppressed that contributes to the smugness of the oppressor. And if one decides to go against the will of the people up on the food chain then your resilience shall be devoured in a non conforming manner as there is no scope for entertaining a different point of view.
The character of Hunter Conrad in Swallow is played masterfully by Haley Bennett, who depicts an inconspicuous part of the Conrad family. She is married to Richie, played by Austin Stowell, who enjoys an accentuate position in the family. He has inherited the company earlier run by his father. The family has a sumptuous lifestyle. Hunter, coming from a humble background is always made to feel how lucky she is that Richie married her. Soon she becomes pregnant which triggers a disorder called pica in medicinal terms. She starts craving for things that are non nutritive in nature and far from being edible. She tells her psychiatrist that she likes the feel of different patterns in her mouth. But soon the family finds out about the disorder and becomes paranoid about the damage it could cause to their family legacy, as Hunter’s the one bearing it. Her insignificant role in the dynamics is made even more impotent as she loses the authority over that one thing on which she used to have a total autonomy, “her body.”
An Ingenious Metaphor
Carlo Mirabella Davis has artfully sprinkled the crumbs of his contentions that he has with certain stagnant customs and perspectives. It is so deftly done by him that he never preaches or imposes any of his philosophy rather builds the narrative by intricately inducing his variances into the mix.
Hunter’s life has just become an extension to that of her husband. She tries hard to be adept in all the household chores and conform to all the likes and dislikes of her husband, even the pathetically trivial ones. She waits throughout the day for her husband to return from work, so that she could cook for him. Now this action of her’s is not out of love but is a desperate attempt to keep everyone happy around her and prove her worth.
The family is never overtly violent towards her. They are never abusive in their approach, instead quite decorous and even amiable at times. But sometimes the greatest abuse lies in not giving the person what is rightfully theirs. It’s not just about being violent physically but not letting somebody act their will, also qualifies as violence. As soon as the news of her pregnancy reaches her in-laws through Richie who tells them “we are pregnant”, she loses the autonomy over her own flesh. She tells her psychiatrist that eating the inedible objects gave her a sense of control. When an overly dulcet person, having a dysmorphic demeanor is deprived of that one thing they hold dear them they become disbanded. Their enthusiasm and mental well being dissipates into a chaotic mindset. Hunter was someone who had lost her conviction, and didn’t have an identity of her own due to the impact of certain violent acts of crime in the past. The people around her whom she called family were kind to her till the time she acted like a obedient domesticated animal, kept for a specific purpose. As soon as she tried to contribute in any way she was shunned off. What she needed instead was that somebody tells her that it is fine to think differently, it’s fine to be absurd at times, it’s fine to be not witty or funny all the time, it’s fine to be yourself as only you can be you.
Swallow could very well have been a generic routine thriller but the depths that the director makes you explore, refrained it from becoming one. There is no dramatic end to this story, there is no clash or the great revenge, but I am sure there will be a sense of empowerment that will linger on.
Swallow written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, in his directorial debut, is a psychological thriller film released in 2020. Currently Swallow is only available on Video-on-Demand.
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