FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Dec 15, 2020

SWALLOW (2020)

I don't mean to brag, but let me tell you: when I was but a wee bonny lass, I choked on a watermelon Jolly Rancher. At this point I don't remember whether the watermelon Jolly Rancher went up or down, but it obviously did one or the other for I am still here to recount this incredible tale. For some seconds though--I am unsure how long, exactly, but it felt like an eternity--I experienced pure, abject terror. Perhaps you know the feeling, when something gets lodged in your throat for a moment and there is an immediate, primal panic. I didn't think much of my brush with mortality at the time but the trauma lingers still! I haven't had a Jolly Rancher since, watermelon or otherwise, because what if it happens again? Further, what if what is lodged cannot be dislodged? Dying is one thing, but having DIED FROM A WATERMELON JOLLY RANCHER written on your tombstone is quite another.

Anyway. Those primal feelings flared up several times during Swallow. Whenever pregnant, unhappy housewife Hunter (Haley Bennett) opened her mouth and crammed something into her gullet, I cried "NO! Girl, it will not fit!" (Really took me back to my college days hahahaeeeehhhhh.) Swallowing a small marble? The idea makes me extremely uncomfortable, but okay, maybe it's do-able. But she works her way up to, like, Precious Moments figurines or whatever and I practically broke out in hives every time, yet I wondered how far she would go. Was she like the man from Mars in Blondie's "Rapture"? Would she eat Cadillacs, etc, and then, when there's no more cars would she go out at night and eat up bars, where the people used to meet? What about after she'd eaten the last guitar? Would she become another Dark Phoenix and take to consuming the very stars themselves?

Well, of course not. That trajectory is for another film, or perhaps for your Swallow fanfiction, if you are so inclined. This film isn't even the shocking, cringeworthy body-horror something something the trailer had me (and maybe you) thinking it would be. Writer/director Carlos Mirabella-Davis is more interested in unpacking the reasons why a woman might suddenly feel a compulsion to, you  know, swallow random tchotchkes. What begins as essentially your standard housewife ennui tale gets even deeper into both the nitty and the gritty as Hunter's past is revealed and her pica threatens her life and everything in it. I am always here for depictions of housewife ennui, don't get me wrong. I will eat up anything from classics à la Jeanne Dielman to the bonkers, pea soup-laden Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door; I'm in particularly if the films get all "good for her" and explode the heteronormative, nuclear family paradigm. I'm in particularly particularly if the film adds a nice zest of class warfare to get my "eat the rich" senses tingling. Swallow does all of this in spades, and it's anchored by a terrifically nuanced performance by Haley Bennett and Katelin Arizmendi's lush cinematography. Ultimately, though, I find it curious that this film didn't really resonate with me. Despite the fine time I had, I was never particularly emotionally invested, though I wanted to be. Was there a detachment in Mirabella-Davis's filmmaking that kept me at arm's length, or is it simply that my heart is as hard as a watermelon Jolly Rancher?


mulholland said...

Hmmm, was curious about this one. Now I...don't know if I should bother to see it or not.

Thanks for posting. And for the chuckles. Wish you would post your reviews more often!

horrorgeek said...

Spoilers ahead. There won't be many, but there will be some.

Though I'm not someone who has suffered extensively from pica, I do have my own more commonly experienced compulsions, and truly found myself in this main character regardless. There is a strange relation you can develop with inanimate objects, not quite like humanizing them...but almost. You know they aren't living, yet for some reason it's almost easier with each irrational engagement with the object to displace some of the action untoward it, like it was the one lulling you.

Her relationship with a few specific item.... like the push pin. I know exactly how that is. The fear, yet the excitement. The desire to conquer something even though you know you know it might be self destructive. Sacrificing safety given for the freedom that's been taken away.

The husband clearly falls into this role and projects what he's been forced to do onto her. It's all for the father-in-law in the end. The mother-in-law who in parts forces the role upon Hunter, but at the same time you see this level of what I believe was fear or concern for Hunter. Some actions, like the gifting of that book felt callous at some level with maybe a hint of concern, evolved through the movie and in my eyes she was trying to protect Hunter the best way she knew how, even though once again it was ushering Hunter into this safety bubble that stifled her freedom.

As a person who comes from humble beginnings, and has been involved and almost engaged to more than one person of greater wealth, each time it has failed for these very really and eerie pressures. It's a trap that ushers these compulsive habits, seemingly manageable initially, which then are cultivated into true compulsions.

I wasn't fully satisfied with the interaction between her father and her. It was meant to provide her and the audience a sense of catharsis but it didn't quiet feel that way for me. Perhaps I'm looking at it with too narrow of a lens?

The end was something I needed from that film, but it still left me feeling forlorn. Do I believe she's on the path she should be? To some extent yes, but I think it ends with me not being sure where she's truly going. She needed to run, and she needed to confront her father, and the last thing she swallowed mimicking her first painful experience with the push pin did feel full circle. But that last swallow which was supposed to be liberating, and no doubt was for many factors, still an option forced upon her.

If only she had a better option to raise the child freely, and then still took that action in swallowing the pill then I feel it could have been more effective. It was still a cathartic scene, but I felt a slight sense of the push pin there. Something desired and feared. Not dangerous like the push pin before, and a real decision for hers to make. She did say she moved too fast into the pregnancy and it was clearly something she never wanted from the beginning. So maybe this is a case of me not giving those scenes and her words of detestment enough validity, almost like everyone else in her life I could be falling into that same process.

The end purposefully left her future path a little vague, and that it can be effective. But I also feel that there's more to her story in terms of her decisions fallout and her next steps for survival. I wasn't ready to stop my journey with her. But in the end I suppose...maybe letting her go without knowing what will happen is what needed to be. It's the mindset she was in to not be sure where to go next, and the story is partialy about how autonomy and freedom are to be cherished over the safety of a path laid out before us. Feeling slightly lost is better than feeling trapped. And back to the pill, maybe it was one of a few options forced upon her. But life does that, it always will, and she chose the best decision for herself.

If you got this far, I appreciate you reading through it and sparing your time.

Stacie Ponder said...

I will, in all likelihood, watch this one again in the future, love it, and wonder why it didn't click completely the first time around. In hindsight my feelings about it grow warmer!

horrorgeek said...

I also tend to apply meaning where it probably wasn’t intended or doesnt exist. “Oh yeah that precious moments figuring is a sign that all the items before hand have grown into her own unique precious moments collection” 😜

I’m glad it’s warmed up to you a little more; I feel like I keep wavering back and forth with it’s entirety, though there are scenes individually that I really love. Also I wouldn't have watched it if you hadn't written about it, so thank for doing so.

Stacie Ponder said...

"I also tend to apply meaning where it probably wasn’t intended or doesnt exist."

Oh that's one of my favorite pastimes! (see: Suspiritober, any episode of Gaylords of Darkness...) :D