Monday, March 2, 2020

Class, feminism and trauma compete for place in Carlo Mirabella-Davis' odd and oddly compelling SWALLOW

A trophy wife in a trophy home with a husband who is himself a trophy of sorts (he's gorgeous, he's got a trophy business and he's from a trophy family) takes matters into her own hands without quite knowing what, why or how in the new movie SWALLOW. Written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis (shown below) -- whose only other work TrustMovies knows is the documentary The Swell Season, which, like Swallow, is another oddball undertaking), this quite beautiful new film begins about as slowly and quietly as possible, before building its unusual combination of suspense, surprise, empathy and, yes, a little annoyance.

The annoyance comes from a scene fairly early on, which has no place in this otherwise smartly put-together movie. In it, the matriarch of the family (very well played, as usual, by Elizabeth Marvel) questions our heroine about where she is from, her family, and other things that this uber-wealthy clan would have absolutely known long before it consented to allow its only son to marry the girl. There is also no real need for the scene; it tells us little we will not learn -- lots more important, interesting stuff, too -- later in the film. That unnecessary and too obvious scene aside, the remainder of Swallow comes awfully close to not comparing to much of anything I've seen before.

Not, in fact, until the lengthy visual accompaniment to the end credits rolls, does what we have just viewed fully register. This long, dialog-free ending, with an appropriate song playing over it, is so oddly beautiful to watch, especially given what we and our heroine, Hunter (played with enormous, subtle skill by Hayley Bennett, above and below), have endured previously, that it gives us plenty of time to take in and digest what has happened and what it all has meant.

In his tale of a beautiful young housewife who has married well but suddenly finds herself swallowing small objects that ought not be inserted into the mouth, let alone ingested, Mr. Mirabella-Davis takes a number of risky chances, most of which pay off well. Riskiest, perhaps, is one scene near the end, in which Hunter meets her father (another of his often small-but-indelible performances by Denis O'Hare), which oughtn't to work but, thanks to the writing and performances, certainly does.

I am leaving out much of the "plot," of the film because you deserve to be able to take it in and follow it on your own. Though not terribly incident-heavy, it should hold you because of its smart interplay of action and theme(s), which do not come to full fruition until that final end-credit scene. In addition to Ms Marvel, the supporting cast is made up of Austin Stowell (above, center, left) as the hubby, and David Rasche (center, right, as his dad), with excellent work as well from Laith Nakli (as Hunter's new "caretaker") and Zabryna Guevara (as her questionable therapist).

The cinematography (Katelin Arizmendi) and production design (Erin Magill) combine to place us in a house so perfect and beautiful we don't want to leave -- until the filmmaker cleverly shows us the trap of it all. His final scene, in fact, should make you oddly happy to find yourself in such wonderfully "normal," if a-tad-down-scale surroundings. Combining class, feminism, trauma and more, Swallow is, well, something else indeed.

From IFC Films and running a just-right 94 minutes, the movie opens theatrically this Friday, March 6, in New York City at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. If you live on neither coast, worry not: Swallow will be simultaneously available via VOD.

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